By A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
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.
I probably shouldn’t be throwing down a prediction that the second book I’m reviewing in 2013 is going to end up on my Best of the Year list, but I’m pretty comfortable that Splintered will be there. I was completely captivated, swept up in the danger and romance of the story and for once, when I looked at the progress bar at the bottom of my Kindle it wasn’t to see how close I was to finishing, it was to make sure I had a lot more book to read still. I didn’t want this story to end.
The story is a little bit of an acid trip, so recounting and summarizing takes some doing. It’s one of those things that I can only give a little bare bones structure to because what gets filled in when you read the story is so rich and wild with so many mind-bending turns, I could never do it justice.
Alyssa’s mother Alison has been committed to an asylum because she hears plants and bugs talking to her, among other things. She mutters on about the family being part of the Alice in Wonderland curse, the one fictionalized by Lewis B. Carroll. When Alyssa comes of age and begins hearing bugs and flowers talk too, she confronts her mother and in a rare bout of lucidity, she tells her the key to ending the curse is to find her way back to Wonderland and fix what the original Alice did. Easy stuff, right? It’s not completely impossible though, since Alyssa has some hidden memories of a strange place coming back to her and another voice in her head that’s giving her little clues to nudge her along.
Instead of the solo trip that she’d planned on, Alyssa ends up with her friend/crush Jeb, who jumped in after her when he saw her going into a looking glass. These two are obviously smitten with each other, even if she thinks Jeb is dating someone else. He ends up being a huge help and source of comfort along the way, especially when they come across the owner of that voice – dun dun dun. Morpheus. He’s the one who helps Alyssa unlock some of her memories of Wonderland, her time with him when she was a child and that she has to finish the tasks to undo the original Alice’s mistakes to lift the curse before she can go home.
Undoing those curses means meeting up with the characters in Wonderland and that’s a mind trip itself. Take everything you remember about them from Carroll’s book, run it through a funhouse mirror and hand it off to Tim Burton and you might have an idea. The action is non-stop and the plot moves along quickly. Near the end, I got a little mixed up about what exactly Morpheus wanted with what Queen and why, but frankly, I didn’t care about those pesky details.
If I said Alyssa was my favorite female character of the year, if wouldn’t mean much right now, but I’m sure she’ll hold that spot for a while. This girl is amazing. She’s so brave and smart, I loved how unflinchingly she took on the responsibility of fixing whatever it was she had to in order to save her mom and end the curse for her family. She was so protective of Jeb, it was adorable – and yeah, even of that big lout, Morpheus, even when he didn’t deserve it.
There is a very lovely romance running through the story – personally I never felt there was a love triangle. Jeb had Alyssa’s heart before they went to Wonderland and even when petty jealousies and Morpheus’ tricks clouded her mind, he never lost it. She always would have given anything for him to be safe and he would have done anything for her. Morpheus was hard to pin down (ha – you’ll get the joke when you read it). He seemed evil and yucky, then I’d feel sorry for him, then I’d hate him again, then I’d like him. By the end, I have absolutely no idea what to think of him or his motives. If I see a moth, I’m smacking it though.
I should try to be more eloquent that just buy, read, buy, read! That was my big takeaway though. Splintered was so madly imaginative and romantic with a deliciously dark underbelly that I wanted to read it again as soon as I finished it. I was left with the oddest feeling at the end – I was so happy that this was a standalone book because I couldn’t see where the story could have gone without diluting the magic, but I also wanted more of Alyssa and her wild life.
My Rating: A