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.
I’m gonna be honest with you: I liked Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It may seem like a bunch of nonsense, but I liked it. And the same can be said about Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There – this one being even more nonsense, but the plot was more clever… if something that makes no sense can be clever.
Of course I was gonna go crazy when I saw this was a retelling of that classic. Besides, this had all the potential for being a great story. Lovers of Alice and fantasy would find a treat in here. I’m both of those, yet this was completely underwhelming.
But let’s get done with the good first, which can be reduced to one thing: The writing. Not over-the-roofs beautiful, but it’s descriptive and makes the story flow easily. The author describes in detail how everything looks through the eyes of Alyssa, the subject to a curse that runs in the veins of all the females descendant of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s book.
Everyone in her family has been tagged as crazy ever since the original Alice got out of the rabbit hole. Of course, they really aren’t crazy – they’re telling the truth, but this truth is what got them tagged as insane in the first place. Now Alyssa fears the same will happen to her, especially since she hears the voice of insects talking to her. But she’s determined to break this curse to save her mother Alison, so she goes down the rabbit hole again, and won’t come back until she has accomplished her mission.
For starters, this tagging everyone in her family as crazy annoyed the hell out of me. Sure, if someone came to me to tell me a grasshopper told her I should take care of myself, I would be weirded out, but I wouldn’t take it seriously. The person may have been making things up, or indeed, their mind in fact thinks a grasshopper did that, but is that a reason to apply 19th century treatments to them? No.
You see, the portrayal of mental illness in this book makes me sick in so many levels. Take a look at some things:
Crazies like Alison – all they have are padded cells and blunted utensils. That’s their normal.
And not to mention Alyssa fears they’re gonna use straitjackets on her too:
Most of my makeup has been cried and rained off, leaving smudge tracks on my face. Now all I see is Alison. But if I look deeper, it’s me wearing a straitjacket and an eel turban,grimacing like the Cheshire Cat as I sip pot roast from a teacup.
I know for a fact padded cells and straitjackets are not used anymore as a treatment, so the mention of them as the treatment for someone that simply says bugs talk is extremely ignorant, and even if we ignored that, it’s still exaggerated only to make everything more dramatic. As if someone who talks to insects was dangerous.
This is what annoyed me the most in this book. That alone would have settled my decision to rate this 1 star, but no, something else that made me even more angry had to be added. What’s that, you ask? It’s an abusive romance.
Some people find cute when a guy is possessive over her girlfriend because “he wants the best for her.” I’m not one of those people. Jeb gave me nauseas every time he appeared. He’s not hot. He’s not sweet. He’s an asshole. Proof #1 is this:
“Al.” His Adam’s apple moves as he swallows. “I want you to put a stop to this Hitch thing. Whatever’s going on, it’s not worth …” He pauses. “Losing an important part of you.”
Unbelievable. He thinks I’m such a prude, he won’t even say the word. “You mean my virginity?”
His neck flashes red. “You deserve better than some one-night thing. You’re the kind of girl who should have a commitment from a guy who actually cares. Okay?”
Because not only does he have a girlfriend already and has done what he thinks Alyssa will do and worse with other girls, but he also thinks he can have the final word when it comes to Alyssa’s virginity. Look, it’s not his problem if she wants to screw a hundred guys. Why can he do it and not her? It doesn’t matter she was lying. What bothers me is his attitude.
Being so possessive about Alyssa doesn’t go only as far as her virginity, though. Remember the little synopsis I added at the beginning? About Alyssa being determined to break the curse? Well, this guy doesn’t give a damn about that. He doesn’t care Alyssa wants to save her mother (ignoring all the offensive and stupid things about the bad portrayal of mental illness). He only wants Alyssa for himself and won’t let her go and try. And all that because of why? Because a guy – Morpheus – knows Alyssa from dreams.
“No.” Jeb crosses my arms over my chest, then lifts me against one of the curtains on the wall so my feet dangle, pinning me like a butterfly to a corkboard. “We’re not going anywhere. That foaming freak thinks you stole those gloves. And now he knows your name. Very smooth, by the way.”
Honestly, I don’t understand why she’s so attracted to him. She even fears him:
Jeb’s supposed to meet me here. I’m dying to see him again but at the same time nervous about how he’ll react to my decision to help Morpheus without talking things over with him first.
Look, if you feel you need to ask the permission of a guy for saving your mother, you should also feel there’s something fishy going on there. Worse even if you worry what he’ll do when he finds out you did something without asking him for that permission first. That will only lead to an unhealthy relationship in which he controls her and will probably get to the point of hitting her (not saying he did, by the way). What she said there is enough for cutting every connection she had to him.
Also, you can’t just take all the elements in a book, make slight changes to their names and call that a retelling. Because yes, this book only feels as if the author mixed the two Alice books written by Carroll with that movie and then she just switched some letters in the names of everything. For example, Rabid White is the White Rabbit, Queen Red is… well, it’s obvious, and Humphrey is Humpty Dumpty.
Knowing all the possible options in which she could have made this a retelling, why did she have to go to the easiest and less imaginative one?
Then there’s something else that bothered me. It’s this line of the book:
Pausing, he traces a finger along the door’s frame. “The last place she remembered having it was at your store. But she figured you would’ve contacted her if you’d found it. You didn’t see it, right?”
I push down the guilt nudging me. “No. And I’m not her royal majesty’s purse keeper, FYI.”
I had said I liked the writing, and it’s true, I liked the descriptions, but I don’t think it’s professional to type “FYI” instead of “for your information” in a book. It’s even weirder because that was part of a dialogue. It’s one thing to type that in text messages, but in dialogues? It just made me go like this:
I don’t think there’s anything in this book that saves it from a 1-star rating, to be honest. And nothing can convince me to read the sequel, either, because 1) this could have perfectly been a standalone, and 2) I’m not interested anymore. I don’t want to know anything about Jeb or the love triangle between Jeb, Alyssa and Morpheus, or this “curse.” A.G. Howard has lost me. I’m leaving this rabbit hole for good.