Little known fact about me: my senior year of high school and part of my first year of college, I worked at Hot Topic. Not because I was particularly punk or goth, though I did like the discount on band t-shirts (and that I could wear band t-shirts and jeans to work). No, the real reason I took the job was one perk: reimbursed concert tickets. Just for filling out a form about the “style” of concert-goers, I could attend pretty much any show for free (of course there were a few restrictions, but an overall awesome program). Dude, I got to see DAVID BOWIE. INCUBUS (at the height of their popularity). ALKALINE TRIO (still one of my favorites — I am cheerfully morbid). WARPED TOUR. And others I’ve completely forgotten about, all in the span of less than a year’s time.
Anyway, the point of sharing that little tidbit about my employment history is to help explain how my brief stint in retail and those forms I filled out in exchange for concert tickets means that I notice fashion, particularly accessories, and especially when these details are intended to convey a sort of aesthetic. And Splintered by A.G. Howard made me want to whip out my notebook and jot down all the style elements of skater-chic Alyssa and her next-door-neighbor (and naturally, secret crush,) Jeb, just so I can send them into Hot Topic execs and confirm that those fairy wings and rubber bracelets will continue to be perennial favorites with their target demographic. I was immediately drawn to the lush description and Alyssa’s character before we ever got to Wonderland. Even though I once upon a time had pink hair and a nose ring, I was never this cool, even when I wanted to be.
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. 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.
Alyssa is an artist who makes murals out of dead bugs she captures herself. She hears the voices of bugs and flowers. She wears fingerless gloves to hide the scars her mother gave her when she was a child. She is also the descendent of Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s stories about Alice in Wonderland. A curse has followed the female descendants of the original Alice, which manifests as mental illness. Alyssa’s mother is so disturbed she is often not lucid and appears to be a danger to herself, and her father has finally signed off on giving her electroshock therapy. In order to save her mom from that fate, Alyssa follows a few clues left by a strange moth through the looking glass in an attempt to right the wrongs Alice left in Wonderland and reverse the curse on her family. Jeb follows, and crazy Wonderland antics ensue.
A trip to this Wonderland is like taking acid (or at least what I imagine it would be like) and reading the original Lewis Carroll version. I mean, it’s crazy. And bizarre. And downright mad. The costumes get even better. I love the circus punk aesthetic, the crazy mix of colors, and the spin on the all familiar scenes in Alice in Wonderland. It’s no wonder Tim Burton gets a nod in the acknowledgments, because it definitely has that grotesquely beautiful feeling his work always does, and if it were ever adapted for film, it would have to be done in the style of The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is a story I think would have done very well as a graphic or illustrated novel, because the text is full of so much visual description.
As imaginative and richly descriptive as this novel is, all of the details overwhelm the story. The writing is uneven; some patches of it I loved, other passages were neverending strings of simple sentences with so much detail being told rather than shown. About a third of the way through my interest began to wane, and at the three-fourths mark, I was just ready for it to be over. I may have felt as if I was going a bit mad myself.
The dueling love interests were a major distraction from the adventures in Wonderland. Jeb was the not so bad boy with the facial piercings who filled the selfless, knight-in-shining armor role, and Morpheus was the slightly sinister but dashing otherworldly being that tried his best to charm Alyssa. As much as I liked the kissing scenes (I am a fan of kissing scenes, when done well, and these were above average), they weren’t swoon-worthy.
Though I give this book high marks for imagery and it definitely will have its fans (if you want some fangirling reviews, find them here and here) this is not making it onto my favorites shelf. Readers who enjoy the creepy and twisted and not one, but TWO glittering love interests (one with wings, one without) will salivate over the very detailed and elaborate description in the prose, but those looking for a gripping plot should pass. Though I haven’t personally read anything by Melissa Marr, she raved about Splintered and says it is perfect for fans of her Wicked Lovely series. Teen readers who are looking for a new twist on paranormal romance should check it out, and if you wanted more Alice-y references in Alice in Zombieland (which I haven’t read, but understand it is not Alice in Wonderland + zombies like I thought it would be) this might appeal to you.
Splintered will be released on January 1st, 2013.
I received a copy of this for review from the publisher.