*Visit me at http://infinitereads.com/ for more reviews and sundry thoughts, and if you're a book blogger, please say hi and leave your URL so I can visit you, too.*
First of all, don’t let the pretty cover fool you. Apart from the antic, too-bright expression on the girl’s face, it doesn’t accurately represent the madcap corkscrew of a world Howard builds here. To fully understand all of the allusions, you do need to have read the original Alice books or at least have seen one of the older movie versions, not the almost-successful Tim Burton picture.
Scrappy, innocent Alyssa is horrified when her father approves electroshock therapy for her mentally ill mother. After a lifetime of believing her mother is mentally ill, she’s realized that the voices both of them hear from bugs and flowers aren’t hallucinations. Her only choice is to break through the looking glass into Wonderland, but it’s not the silly place her ancestor Alice Liddell described to Lewis Carroll. The White Rabbit, for example, is really a rabid creature called White who’s devoid of all flesh save his face. Dinner parties consist of a race to catch live food that tears off parts of itself to egg the guests into a feeding frenzy. And the Caterpillar, now past his metamorphosis, is a sensual, secretive, and dangerous creature who looks a little like The Crow and shares a past with Alyssa. He says he wants to help her undo Alice’s mistakes and break the curse on her family, but he clearly has his own motives, whatever they might be. Worse, her close friend and somewhat-secret crush Jeb got dragged through the looking glass with her, and now Alyssa isn’t sure she can keep him safe from jealous Morpheus or the other mad and dangerous Wonderland denizens.
While Carroll’s Wonderland skewered Victorian society from behind a veil of nonsense, Howard’s version is a more introverted experience. As she travels, Alyssa confronts the essence of adolescence: innocence versus experience, desire versus inhibition, want versus moral compass. Vivid, grotesque, and occasionally chilling, this dark fantasy brings the vague layer of menace underlying the original Wonderland to the surface with startling effect. The imaginative revisions of familiar settings and characters will fascinate readers as Alyssa struggles to decide whether Morpheus holds the key to saving Wonderland and her mother, or destroying everything she loves.
Alyssa is a prickly but good-hearted heroine, and Howard creates an interesting good boy/bad boy romantic triangle that, while certainly not unique, provides nice tension without becoming annoying. While this book reads like a standalone, Howard does a leave a slight opening for a possible sequel that adds some uncertainty to Alyssa’s ultimate choice.
*Review refers to an ARC from NetGalley, no money changed hands, this is my real opinion, blah blah.*