Splintered by A.G. Howard
Published: 2013, Amulet Books
Series: Splintered, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Source: Won through the Debut Author ChallengeGoodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble
“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