Saturday, February 9, 2013

First Read Friday - Splintered by A.G. Howard


     Title: Splintered 
     Author: A.G. Howard
     Publisher: Amulet Books
     Published: January 1, 2013
     Number of Pages: 371
     Genre(s): Fantasy, YA
     Date Read: February 8, 2013
     Acquired: Wal-Mart

It's not normal to hear voices; it's even less normal when the voices you're hearing appear to be coming from bugs and flowers right? Well in Alyssa Gardener's family, it is normal, at least for the women, and it's all her great, great , great grandmother's fault. You see Aly's great, great, great grandmother (on her mother's side) was the infamous Alice Liddell, yeah that Alice, the one who inspired the nonsensical children's story written by Lewis Carroll. Apparently Alice actually really did go to Wonderland and she told Carroll all about it when she came back. She left out the part about how she was cursed though, and now all the female members of her family go crazy and start to hear talking plants and animals. It happened to Alyssa's mom Alison, who is locked up in a psych ward, and now it's happening to Alyssa.

All Aly wants is a normal life, she wants her mom to come home and she wants the guy she likes to like her back. But the only way for those things to happen is for her to break the curse, and the only way for her to break the curse is to go back down the rabbit hole the same way her great, great, great grandmother did. After a fight with her crush, she finally snaps and decides that there's no time like the present to clean up Alice's mess, she didn't count on Jeb following her along though. And when they get to Wonderland they find out that it's not exactly the wonderful place that Lewis Carroll painted it to be, little Alice must have gotten some things wrong in her descriptions because Wonderland and its Netherling inhabitants are even stranger and darker than Aly and Jeb could've ever imagined. Upon their arrival they find out that the only way to break the curse and get back home is to clean up all of the messes that Alice made, but there are a few catches, and a few unforeseen problems, and Aly and Jeb aren't sure, but they feel like their being manipulated somehow. Will they ever get home? And even if they do, will they ever be the same?

I am and always have been, without a doubt a HUGE Alice in Wonderland and Alice's Adventures Through The Looking Glass fan. They are two of my favourite childhood stories, and Wonderland is one of my favourite fantasy worlds, I would go to Wonderland in a heartbeat, it would be my vacation destination of choice. So being that I am a huge fan of the original works, you can guess that I also really, really like movie adaptations, and literary retellings. The minute I see that a film or book claims to use Alice as source material I will watch it or read it without fail. Disney's 1951 animated version, the Time Burton live action extravaganza, the Syfy channel's sci-fi adpatation simply called Alice, Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars novels, Hatter M. graphic novels, and Princess Alyss of Wonderland companion book have all been devoured and all grace my shelves. The only reason I haven't played American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns is because my computer is getting on in years and refuses to play it, and I refuse to buy a PS3 copy since I already bought a copy for my PC...And none of that takes into account all of the other various Alice merchandise that I have, multiple versions of the original stories, a hand printed White Rabbit messenger bag, tshirts, sweaters, music boxes, posters and prints, the only things I'm really missing are stuffed animals and props, and the only fandom I have more merchandise for is Harry Potter (for which I do have stuffed animals and props, but lo that is a digression!). 

Why did I just tell you all of that? Because it's important background information, before I review Splintered I wanted you to understand just how seriously I take the Alice stories and world, and how much the story and characters mean to me! So now that I've gotten that out of my system, let us continue with the review at hand.

I know I've got the labels adaptation and retelling applied to this novel already, but in the strictest use of those terms, they are not what this book is. Not at all. A.G. Howard has taken the Caroll stories as source material yes, but she isn't rehashing the story or re-envisioning it. This is more akin to a sequel. Alice herself is a background character, long dead and only mentioned. The main character in this novel is her look alike great, great, great granddaughter Alyssa. I don't know why A.G. thought it would be fitting to give all of the female descendants of Alice Liddell names similar to Alice, especially given that they believe Alice brought a curse down upon them, you really think they'd actually want to stay as far away from Alice-like names as possible, or at least that's my thinking, what do you all think? So anyway, it's about a descendant, and the ramifications of Alice's adventures, both on her relatives, and on Wonderland. I really like the idea about going back to a fictional world a long time after the "happily ever after" and exploring what really happened; I've had visions of doing similar things myself, in fact in my head I have completely extrapolated a life for Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia post-Last Battle. But that's another thing to talk about another time.

All of the characters and places from the source material are here, as to be expected, but they're all a lot different than the way we remember them from Carroll's books, chalk that up to Alice only being a little girl when she first met them all, and she wasn't really capable of understanding just how weird and scary they really are. Rabid White/The White Rabbit was the hardest one for me to handle, he's extremely grotesque in the "real" Wonderland, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are replaced by the Twid Sisters, arachnid-like Netherlings who mind the souls in Wonderland. One thing that gets me about this story, and most/if not all adaptations and retellings of Alice is the fact that Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass always seem to get mashed together into the same story. And when this happens the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts always seem to become one person. 

The world in Through the Looking Glass is completely separate from Wonderland, and therefore the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts (and their respective kings) should be two separate sets of people. But in A.G.s novel, as with other adaptations, that seems to have been forgotten and the two worlds have once again been mashed together to become one. At least in this story A.G. has some elements that try and account for that: the rabbit hole is how you get IN to Wonderland, mirrors are the portals OUT and can also be used by the Netherlings to travel from one place to another both within Wonderland and in the mortal world. And there was also all of the chess references, cunningly placed to be reminiscent of the chess game in Through the Looking Glass. Although it still falls prey to the Red Queen/Queen of Hearts problem. Yes there are two Queens and it's rather easy to tell that Red = Queen of Hearts and Grenadine = Red Queen, but there's only one King so it still doesn't sit completely right with me. Geographically both Wonderland and the world of Through the Looking Glass are represented in A.G.'s Wonderland, all the locales an Alice fan like myself is expecting to see are recognisable if slightly changed by the darker, edgier vibe, and melded in are some places meant to evoke Through the Looking Glass, the checker-board sands of the desert for example, and the addition of the Walrus (Octobenus), Carpenter and Clams to the pool of tears.

Overall this book succeeds in doing exactly what the author set out to do. She wanted to explore what happened after Alice came back and she did that magnificently. This darker, edgier Wonderland will appeal to teenagers whether they liked Alice as children or not. I also give the author huge props for doing something I've always wanted to do, but have also always been fearful of doing. When you love a story as much as I, and A.G. love Alice of course you want to put your own mark on it, but that's a scary, daunting thing to actually do, because if you screw it up? Oh man you would never hear the end of it, it would just be humiliating and bad. But A.G. Howard has nothing to worry about there in my humble opinion because I feel like she has done Lewis Carroll's legacy proud.


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