November 11, 2013

Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered by A.G. Howard
Published: 2013, Amulet Books
Series: Splintered, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Source: Won through the Debut Author Challenge
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“You understand the logic behind the illogical, Alyssa. It's in your nature to find tranquility amid the madness. And that's what we're doing here. We are giving our food a fighting chance.”

“We’re all mad here.”

Although these words are first spoken by the Chesire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland, they remain as pertinent as ever in Splintered, one of the newer renditions of the tale. More of a reimagining than a retelling, Splintered envisions an alternate world where a modern girl rediscovers Wonderland and the ties it has to her family.

Alyssa Gardner knows what madness is like. She has the dubious honor of being a distant relation to Alice Liddell, the girl who acted as Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. She and her father spend every Friday afternoon visiting her mother in a local asylum. There’s talk of a curse in her family, an inherited madness that passes from female to female, but so far no one has worried about Alyssa’s sanity. Because no one knows that Alyssa took up skateboarding and prefers to wear headphones as ways to escape from the constant voices of nearby plants and animals.

As her mother’s condition worsens, Alyssa begins to search deeper into the history of her family and Alice’s connection to Wonderland. Wonderland, which isn’t such a fairy tale after all. To protect her mother’s remaining sanity, as well as her own, Alyssa is willing to do whatever it takes, starting with finding a way to travel down the rabbit hole into Wonderland itself.

Whimsical and madcap, in many ways Splintered is the perfect modern-day companion novel to Carroll’s tale. It’s been a few years since I’ve read Alice in Wonderland, but I do think that A.G. Howard does a good job transporting readers back into a world very like Carroll’s and yet with subtle details and twists that are undeniably her own creation. The Wonderland Alyssa enters is darker than the place where Alice ventured. In fact, parts of it are downright terrifying. Wonderland residents hint that the darkness is partially Alice’s doing, and Alyssa hopes that by righting the wrongs there, she can break her family’s curse. Of course, in Wonderland nothing is ever as it seems.

Against such a vibrant, lush setting firmly entrenched in the literary canon, it would be a struggle for any author to rise above the inspiration and distinguish her own creativity. And it is certainly true that the places this book falters the most are those not directly inspired by Carroll’s original work: mainly, the characters. I liked Alyssa. I liked how tough she is, how she is unashamed to walk to the beat of her own drum. But her tough exterior comes at a price. I had a difficult time understanding her relationships with others, especially with her family members. After dealing with many tough situations in her life, Alyssa has understandably put up a wall around herself, but that same wall made it difficult for me to really grasp how her relationship with her father, mother, or even her friend/crush Jeb really functioned. Besides, of course, how I as a reader was told that it functioned.

Although the story’s plot is ostensibly about Alyssa’s journey into Wonderland to save her family, her mother, and ultimately herself, at times it read a lot like a paranormal romance. And what’s a paranormal romance without a love triangle? Alyssa and Jeb, the guy next door, have the history for a great relationship - but only if readers are willing to excuse the fact that Jeb is currently in a relationship with another girl. I understand that feelings are complicated, and for the most part I was able to look past that fact.

Alyssa’s other potential suitor is Morpheus, one of the inhabitants of Wonderland. Conveniently enough, he also has a history with Alyssa. I had an even more difficult time swallowing the authenticity of their relationship. For the most part, Alyssa does not remember their history, and, because of that, her feelings for him feel a bit flat to me.

Neither of these two romantic interests appealed to me. I’ll be honest, though, and admit that this might not have been the case if I had first read this book a few years ago when I was closer in age to the characters.

For all of its flaws, Splintered was compulsively readable. Howard writes very well and I quite enjoyed seeing how she manipulated the original tale to make it fit with the story she presented. That is by far the strongest aspect of Howard’s work. Howard’s story is respectful of the original work, and yet is able to take some fairly successful twists and turns along the way.

I think the story ends on a satisfying note. Not all questions are answered and not all threads are neatly tied, but there’s a sufficient sense of closure. It has been announced, however, that Splintered is the first book in a trilogy. I probably will continue with this series. Like Alice herself, I’m far too curious for my own good.

Rating: 3 stars

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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I haven't read Alice in Wonderland and any of the film versions have always freaked me out a little. I'm sure I won't appreciate the story as much as you did because of this. I know a lot of people really enjoyed this though. Glad to see you enjoyed this overall, Amanda. :)

    1. Thanks, Rachel! And I guess Alice in Wonderland is something a number of people get freaked out by? I can't do horror in basically any circumstance, but weird surreal stuff like the Alice in Wonderland story doesn't seem to bother me. I would encourage you to read the original though (not super scary or freaky or anything), definitely a worthwhile classic.

  2. I had a lot of issues with this book, most of which revolved around Morpheus. I just really didn't like him at all, so had a hard time with his and Alyssa's "relationship". I do agree that the atmosphere of SPLINTERED, however, was amazing, and I really loved her spin on the classic tale. I did not like it well enough to read the sequel, though, so shall defer to your opinion on that once you get a chance to read it. :)

    1. Ahh Morpheus. I really think that I would have been intrigued by him if I was a young teen from from an adult perspective...he just doesn't work out too well. We'll see. Maybe Howard will manage to change my mind.

  3. I think the presence of a love triangle is a real shame, but I know I won't be picking this one up regardless. I'm just not a fan of Alice in Wonderland. *shrug* Wonderful review, though, Amanda!

    1. Apparently you're not alone in not being a fan, Keertana. It's an interesting story (Alice, that is) but I can see why it would turn off some people. Thank you, dear!

  4. Very well said. I also thought the author did a pretty good job at bringing to life the zaniness of Wonderland, but also adding a much needed and more grown up darkness to the story. However, like you, I could have done without the unappealing love interests. I could care less about the romantic aspect and wish the focus had been more on other things... but of course, that is rarely the route authors choose to go in YA. I don't know, I'm thinking I will skip the sequel. But I'd still be curious to read what you think of it!

    1. Thank you, Aylee! And I know. I'm starting to tire of YA a bit primarily because of the continued emphasis on life-or-death choices related to love interests. Snore. But if that's what appeals to teens, I can't exactly fault authors.

  5. I have always been a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland. The books enchanted me when I was a child, but thankfully, it's been years since I've read them, so I'll probably forget how much this story directly mirrors the creativity in the original. However, I really like how this one connects to the first, as well as the inclusion of madness. If I'm honest, though, I've neglected reading this story solely for the love triangle, as well as the fact that I'm not sure I'll like Jeb and his current girlfriend. That tends to bother me…Because I think the triangle gets revived in the next story, I'm going to wait until the series is complete to decide whether to read this. But I'm always sad when a book looks SO GOOD except for a triangle. I'm a one hit wonder, but that is always my sticking point. Thanks for this review!

    1. Yeah, considering the emphasis of a love triangle here when Alyssa isn't even with either guy (yet), I can only imagine all the romantic tension will continue to escalate as the series continues. I'd guess this is not going to be a book that you'd love, but maybe I'm wrong. I'll let you know if the second one gets worse (or better) on that count.
      haha and there's nothing wrong with having a sticking point. Too many books as it is, better to have a way to cull at least some options.


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