Splintered, by A.G. Howard

I got this book and its sequel Unhinged for Christmas from my daughters. They got me a YA book because they obviously know I’m a YA writer who reads YA books. And they also know that I absolutely adore Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Of course I’d be interested in reading a modern-day extension of one of my all-time favorite books! My girls know me well. Now let’s jump down the rabbit hole and set up then review the story.

Our heroine is Alyssa, who is a direct descendant of Alice Liddell, the Alice that Carroll based his Wonderland story on. Apparently, all the women in Alice’s bloodline eventually go insane. Alyssa’s mother Allison is currently in an asylum suffering from delusions, and Alyssa fears she may be next because she hears bugs and plants talking to her. Compounding matters more is some typical high school angst about post-graduation plans, particularly about how Alyssa’s best friend (and object of affection) Jeb will be studying art abroad with his girlfriend.

It turns out that Alyssa’s bloodline is cursed due to events set in motion when great-great-great-grandmother Alice visited Wonderland. That’s why the original Alice supposedly went insane, and that’s why Allison may also be insane, and that’s why Alyssa could ultimately end up insane. (Side note: with her grandmother named Alicia, I wonder what A-names the other females in their family tree had.) Conceptually, I LOVE THIS IDEA OF THIS BOOK. Wonderland is filled with trippy imagery, and connecting it to a family’s predisposition for insanity? Could there be a stronger premise?

Instead of the odd but lighthearted nature of Carroll’s book, this Wonderland is a darker, even odder world. At times, it was difficult for me not to draw comparisons between the world of Splintered and the world of the Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Both have incredible visuals—not surprising for a CGI-heavy film, but incredibly impressive for a young adult book. Seriously, the images created by Howard are extremely vivid and creative, and they really made me picture the characters and both the real and strange worlds in the book.

As an aficionado of Alice in Wonderland, I absolutely loved the reimagining of the original characters. The White Rabbit becomes a frightening character named Rabid White. The Mad Hatter’s counterpart in this story is a bizarre yet ingenious creation. The Caterpillar, one of a few characters who helps Carroll’s Alice in her journey, is metamorphosed (figuratively and literally) into a dubiously-motivated winged humanoid named Morpheus who has an intriguing history with Alyssa’s childhood self. There are elements of a love triangle between Alyssa, Jeb, and Morpheus that interestingly plays out as the three characters wrestle with their trust in one another.

Despite the strong concept and imagery, something is missing. The story is told from Alyssa’s point of view, and I never fully latched on to her as a narrator. I simply didn’t relate to her as much as I would have liked. Ironically, I liked her narration the most when she was at her most unreliable—her most splintered—particularly at the Mad Hatter’s tea party table. But too often, I felt she was telling me these wonderful images and concepts instead of really experiencing them. Some tremendously described magical things happen to her along her journey, and there’s some personal growth, but it seemed a little less dimensional than the wonderful dimension of the world itself.

There are some enjoyable twists and turns in the book, but the big reveals at the end didn’t surprise me as much as I would have liked them to. More disconcerting was that Alyssa seemed to understand them immediately. Although the reason behind her understanding is logical—even in a world like Wonderland based on illogic—it was mostly her telling the reader the twists than discovering them. For a final battle, it seemed a little too passive for me, but the ending is handled nicely enough—open for the sequel, but with the primary plot sufficiently resolved.

Did I enjoy this book? I didn’t not enjoy it, and the pages kept turning. Will I read the next part? Most likely; I already own it, and I’m interested enough to see where the saga’s wings will fly next, but there are other books I want to read ahead of it. How would I rate this one? Because the various story elements had somewhat splintered success, I give Splintered FOUR STARS.

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Splintered is available at Amazon.

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