Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard
Rating: A childish story take/ And with a gentle hand/Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined/In Memory's mystic band; so many out-of-the-way things; curiouser and curiouser; a very difficult game indeed; thus grew the tale of Wonderland.
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
In which I first judge a book by its cover:
Love. Perfect. Gorgeous. Haunting. The colors, the illustrative qualities, how well it represents the chaos and beauty and imagination of the story... It's totally gripping. I love illustrated covers, and this one is one of the best. I adore the way the vines are gipping at her hair. And OMG I just saw the key.
In which I then judge a book by its insides:
If you can't tell from me rating this book all in quotes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I'm kind of a big fan of Lewis Carroll. There's always a mix of excitement and trepidation for me when I hear about new adaptations or interpretations. Few of them manage to capture the true nuttiness, sense of chaos, and boundless imagination of Wonderland, and even fewer can inject their own unique ideas into it and still make sense. I'm happy to say that I think Splintered thoroughly delivered on both counts.
|It's a very tall order. But she rises to the occasion.|
Of course, the main attraction of Splintered is Howard's version of Wonderland, and boy is it messed up. In the best way possible, of course. It's dark, gothic, and creepy. The madness here is not the fuzzy, nonsense insanity of Carroll's Wonderland, but more wild. The White Rabbit is actually the White Rabid, a creepy zombie-esque creature with antlers; Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are actually insect-like twins who guard the realms of the dead; and the Caterpillar is actually a sexalicious, black-winged package of swoon named Morpheus.
But what really helped me enjoy Wonderland and all it's harrowing adventures was how well grounded Alyssa's real life is. I've read some fantasy books where the main characters leaves for the fantasy world too soon, and we don't get invested in her life and her relationships. This isn't the case here. I was so invested in Alyssa and her unique situation.
Even without the Wonderland aspects, I've never read any story quite like hers. Her best friend Jeb, a hottie extroardinaire with a heart of gold and a fully fleshed out personality (YAY for love interests with personalities/backstories/piercings!), is dating someone else. Her mom is in an asylum, which takes a horrible toll on both her and her loving father. There's a long line of insanity infecting the women of her family, stretching all the way back to her great-great-(I forget how many greats)grandmother, the one and only Alice Liddell-- a.k.a Lewis' inspiration for the famous tale. But in this version, it's not just a tale. Alice really did go to Wonderland, but obviously, things didn't go so well.
I loved how convoluted the plot was, and all the different reveals. It's like, I had just gotten a handle on the situation when suddenly BAM! New twist. PSYCH! Everything you thought is wrong. I'm usually pretty good at seeing reveals coming, but most of the time reading Splintered I was like like "!!!!! No really !!!!" One twist about her mother was, I think, a little convenient, but I still went with it. It still played.
|Totally the experience of reading this book.|
I loved Alyssa as a heroine. She struggles with light and dark, madness and sanity, imagination and reality. She's an artist and a skater girl and also bugs and flowers talk to her. A. Mazing. She doesn't know who she's supposed to be, or whether she'll go crazy like every other female in her family, or if she already has. But she's clever, and totally comes into her own.
But the characters who really, truly captured my heart, were, of course, Jeb and Morpheus. *faints dead away*
|Oooh. Hot boys, you say? Yes please.|
|Me when the book was over and I had to say goodbye to my fictional boyfriends|
Lastly, the writing. It manages to be both real-- as in Alyssa feels like a real, modern teenager-- and gorgeous. It's lyrical, and visual, and I could see Wonderland so clearly even when it was so confusing. Those images, guys. I mean... I just... wanted to sketch it all, like Alyssa. The whole thing is like a piece of art. I don't even know how Howard can possibly be so creative and invent those kind of pictures in her head. I'm so glad I read this book, because now I get to have them in my head too.
Edit to add: While this is and reads as a standalone novel, I can see that there is potential for future books with Alyssa and the denizens of Wonderland, to which I say PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE yes I approve yes.