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Splintered review

Hold on to your mad hats for a distinctly creepy descent into a whacked out Wonderland…

splinteredSplintered by A. G. Howard
January 2013, Abrams

Book description:

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.


It’s been a while since I posted anything – sadly this is because of manic work craziness and not because I’ve been on a sojourn to Wonderland! Reading a take on a childhood classic is always a bit of a risk. You bring to it your own associations and memories, you expect that the writer will add their own interpretation, but you hope that they will treat the fictional world created by the original author with respect and do it justice. And I think Howard pulls it off – by using the premise that Carroll’s tale was only a second-hand version of events anyway, told to him by the young Alice Liddell, and that certain things got lost in the retelling. She takes Carroll’s central ideas of nonsense, topsy-turvy and things never being quite what they seem, and depicts with vivid clarity her own version of Wonderland, with its bizarre landscapes and disdain for the laws of physics. Amongst other things, we discover that what Alice called a Jabberwocky is actually a sinister device known as a Jabberlock. And that endearing White Rabbit? His real name is Rabid White and he has some serious issues going on. So welcome to the real Wonderland, where things are about to get curiouser and seriously creepier, with a generous nod to Tim Burton (more Beetlejuice era than the 2010 Alice film).
In the ‘real’ world, our protagonist Alyssa, descendant of Alice Liddell, is an angsty, artsy skater girl with an off-beat, emo/steampunk dress sense. Her best friend and secret crush is going out with the most popular girl from school (naturally, a complete cow), her mum’s in a mental home and her dad’s barely coping. As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, she constantly hears bugs and flowers talking to her and has weird visions. But instead of living in fear and denial she decides to face up to her delusions and try to save her mum by, literally, going down the rabbit hole. It was this inner strength, combined with her fragility and weaknesses that made her a likeable character for me – she faces down some pretty horrific creatures and challenges in Wonderland, but is afraid of heights and has a tendency to get wobbly knees and swoon in amorous situations.
Which brings me to the love triangle. Yes, another one. But it kind of makes sense that a girl who exists between two worlds would have two love interests, doesn’t it? For Team Reality we have Jeb – skater-boy-mechanic next door, childhood crush, protective, has Alyssa’s best interests at heart – who selflessly follows Alyssa into Wonderland on her crazy adventure. Then on Team Wonderland we have Morpheus – dubious fashion choices (wings, blue hair, facial tattoos and weird hats, fine, but leather pants?!), manipulative, enigmatic, has his own best interests at heart – or does he? Morpheus keeps us guessing throughout, whereas Jeb, who seems the ‘right’ choice for Alyssa, is a bit self-righteous and annoying at times. I think I know which team I’m on.
Morpheus, who can take moth form and is the successor of the caterpillar from the original story, is just one element of the metamorphosis motif. Alyssa goes through physical changes as she gets to know her Wonderland self, but she’s also on a journey of learning who she really is, at that point of changing from a girl to a woman, having never been kissed and feeing the first tug of love at her heartstrings. Pulling her in another direction is the need to save her mother from the descent into madness. The portrayal of women as mad in books is a familiar one down through the ages, and Howard’s take on it leaves us wondering what if, just as Alyssa discovers when she steps through the splintered looking glass, nothing is quite as it seems? What if the people who we term ‘mad’ aren’t really mad at all – it’s just that they interpret reality in a different way to the rest of us?
It’s an absorbing, imaginative read, with lots of food for thought and more than a few steamy romantic scenes.

Leave a comment


  1. Wow, what a brilliant review! You really have a way with words 🙂 Morpheus, he was a slippery snake: always blowing hot and cold and he was so freaking hard to work out. AG Howard is definitely one to watch, the Wonderland she created was so dark and disturbing that it was genius!

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