REVIEW: Splintered by A.G. Howard
Dear A.G. Howard:
Other than the original, I don’t think I’ve read a novel based on Alice in Wonderland. This seems like an oversight on my part. I’m sure there are plenty but I’ve never sought them out. But your debut caught my interest. I was promised creepiness and Splintered delivered.
Alyssa Gardner is a descendant of Alice Liddell, the basis of Alice from Lewis Carroll’s work. But because children are cruel, this has brought her nothing but grief. She grew up amongst constant teasing from her peers.
The jibes and insults are better than the reality, however. Alyssa can hear bugs and flowers talk, which is not considered normal by most of society. It’s this sort of thing that led to the institutionalization of her mother years before. She has no desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps so she hides this fact from everyone.
But then Alyssa learns of the curse that afflicts the women in her family. Ever since Alice, every woman has ended up in a mental institution. Some of them ended up very dead. When her mother’s condition deteriorates, she decides to find a way to break the curse. This quest leads her to secret family heirlooms, which in turn send her back to Wonderland. Because it turns out Alice’s adventures were true. Unfortunately, Alice also upset the balance of Wonderland and it’s up to Alyssa to set things right if she’s to free the women of her bloodline from the curse.
This is an interesting take on Wonderland. I can’t say it’s ever occurred to me to think of Wonderland and its denizens as a land of Faerie and Fae. I don’t know why. It seems obvious looking back. I thought the depiction of the landscape was the strongest aspect of the novel. Thanks to the Disney version, we think of Wonderland as a place that’s strange and silly. I do, anyway. But the Wonderland of Splintered is dark and twisted. Who knew off with her head! could mean something so horrifying?
I liked Alyssa. As far as I’m concerned, we need more skater girls in YA to add variety to the pool. I was less thrilled by the portrayal of her rival, Taelor. Alyssa is the goth punk skater girl. Taelor is the rich mean girl. Could we get any more stereotypical? There were attempts to add depth of this dynamic, to make it less cliche. Despite the difference in socioeconomic status and class, Alyssa and Taelor have similar home lives. Alyssa doesn’t have a mother and Taelor has a father who’s rarely around — which is the reason she gets everything wants. Money buys love, right?
The fact that a large part of their rivalry revolved around a guy didn’t help matters. Jeb is Alyssa’s next door neighbor who she’s been in love with since they were kids. Taelor is his current girlfriend and there’s obvious tension as a result. Taelor’s highly conscious of the attachment between Alyssa and Jeb. Alyssa hates that Jeb is dating someone she cannot stand, although I can’t say she wouldn’t have that reaction to anyone he dated.
As for Jeb, I didn’t care for him. It was never clear to me why he was dating Taelor. Maybe he was running away from Alyssa but the question is why? Why Taelor? Why run from Alyssa? I never bought it. I hated that he sabotaged aspects of Alyssa’s life while keeping pertinent parts of his life secret. I disliked the fact that he was so obviously into Alyssa and sending signals confirming that but kept dating another girl and showed no signs of breaking up with her. It didn’t cast him in a good light.
This wouldn’t be YA fantasy if there wasn’t another potential love interest. Morpheus is a denizen of Wonderland who Alyssa has known in one form or another since childhood. He is the quintessential supernatural love interest. Manipulative, scheming, prone to locking up Alyssa in rooms… He exhibits the type of behavior you’d expect.
All that said, I wouldn’t call it a love triangle. There was never any doubt in my mind who Alyssa would choose in the end. And for all that Jeb and Morpheus had large roles in the plot, the story remained solely and entirely Alyssa’s. So kudos for that.
I was a little leery regarding the mental illness aspect. I often see this as a plot device to spur the protagonist on their journey and at first glance, that’s exactly what this appears like. But there is actually an interesting explanation that gets revealed in the second half of the novel that puts everything on its head. So I definitely liked that all was not as it appeared.
While I was ambivalent about the relationships and various dynamics, I really loved this take on Wonderland. The imagery was vivid and twisted. It added a mature edge to what we tend to think of as a whimsical place. The various ways in which Alyssa fixes all the things Alice wrecked were great, and I thought the ending was perfect. B-