Last year, the 150th anniversary year of Alice in Wonderland, I researched the history of Alice, different editions of the books and more recent spin-off stories, to make an Alice feature window display and dedicated section in the bookshop.
When I was little I never got around to reading Alice in Wonderland, despite having a huge love of books and the ability to devour the shelves of my local and school libraries. The story had scared my Mum when she was young so it was a book that she never encouraged me to read. This influence stayed with me for many years but last year it was time to give Alice a chance. I think the story would have scared me when I was little but I really enjoyed meeting feisty, independent, girl-power Alice as an adult.
Splintered is one of the many young adult spin-off books that appealed to me so I bought myself a copy, added it to my (already immense) TBR pile and it sat there for a while until I found myself some serious reading time. I’ve just finished and want to share it with you straight away.
Synopsis (from the book cover):
Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great-grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.
To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.
But no one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…
So, if you’ve read the reviews you will know that this book has had some really great AND some really bad press. I’m in the good camp. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering some of the critiques I’ve read. It’s well-written, fun, interesting, original, romantic… Alyssa is a (mostly) likeable 16-ish year old girl and her boy-next-door crush, Jeb, is pretty ok. Alyssa is a skate-boarding, not-very-girly girl but with a flair for gothic fashion, a love and loyalty for her Dad and a talent for creative art. I would have liked to meet a bit more of Alyssa’s best friend, Jenara, and bad-boy Morpheus – Alyssa’s guide to Wonderland – is an intriguing character of hidden depths and is hopefully a character to be explored in the sequels.
The story opens with Alyssa spearing dead insects and creating art projects with them; not an opening I was expecting. I was almost tempted to put the book down at this point as I have not a small amount of dislike for creepy crawlies and an even greater dislike of deliberate harm to living creatures; I didn’t think I could grow to like this Alyssa. However, I read on a few more pages and the story and writing style started to draw me in. Alyssa hears insects and flowers in her head; she hears them talking, carrying on full conversations. She has to wear an iPod nearly all the time to drown out their sounds and this makes her art project insect fetishes start to make a bit more sense.
Alyssa’s mom, Alison, has also suffered from hearing the voices and has been incarcerated in a mental hospital since Alyssa was a young child. I’m not spoiling the plot here as this comes up right at the beginning of the book. This is the one part of the book that grates with me. The depiction of the mental institution is pretty archaic, with padded cells, strait-jackets, physical restraint and permanent sedation being pretty much the norm. Howard calls the institution an ‘asylum’, a term which has been outdated since the turn of the nineteenth – twentieth century and it just does not sit well with the rest of the novel. Better research here would have enhanced the story no end – and would be less misleading to impressionable younger readers. Imagine having a family member suffer mental illness, needing hospital treatment, reading this as a young person and forming your impressions of care in mental hospitals from what you’ve read in this novel; it’s not a good thought. However, the asylum scenes do not form a huge part of the novel and if you can separate those scenes from the more creative Wonderland realm you will find Splintered a very good, page-turning read.
Wonderland comes to life in a dark and original way as Alyssa is drawn deeper and deeper into the customs and desires of the characters who live there and she becomes more and more central to their lives and destinies. It’s wacky – just like the Lewis Carroll original – and stretches all the bounds of reality; hey, it’s a fantasy novel. If you like fantasy worlds, dark fairies, Alice in Wonderland, teenage romance, or coming-of-age fiction, give it a shot and, like I say, please don’t dwell too much on the descriptions of mental illness or treatments. If I were to rate Splintered on a 1-10 scale I would give it a 7/10.
Splintered is the first of a trilogy – with another two short novellas available as separate stand alone add-ons – and I’ve ordered myself books two and three, Unhinged and Ensnared. I just NEED to know what happens to Jeb.
About the Author
A. G. Howard, full name Anita Grace Howard, lives in Texas, USA with her husband and teenage children.
Where to Buy
You can buy Splintered from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local to keep your High Streets alive.