Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

SplinteredThis book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“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 really wanted to like this book more than I did.  Bear in mind, I’m not saying that it’s a bad book by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s just that prior to getting this book, I’d heard several glowing reviews of it, so I was eager to pick it up.  And while I thought the book was fairly well done, it fell short of “extraordinary” to me.

My main issue was with the love triangle, although actually the love story in general felt unnecessary.  “Girl is torn between two guys” has become so common that a writer must make their take on it something exceptional for it to work.  In this novel, it’s really nothing special.  The guys don’t even treat Alyssa very well, which is a trend that I really don’t like.  I didn’t see many redeeming qualities in these two, and it made it even harder for me to swallow any romance elements in the story.

Quite frankly, I think the inclusion of love interests did a lot to diminish the power of this book.  Alyssa is supposed to be the modern answer to Alice Liddell, but in that story, Alice is a child who is merely lost in the experience of being in Wonderland and how it relates to herself.  By having Alyssa lean on other people, especially on guys who are interested in her, her experience is significantly different from Alice’s and lose much of its power.

In fact, I wish this story had taken more of a cue from Tim Burton’s version of the story.  The novel definitely evokes that movie, in that it portrays a darker and more twisted version of Wonderland, but Splintered doesn’t allow Alyssa as much room to blossom into her own person as she deals with the craziness of Wonderland.

I don’t want you to think that I have nothing but bad things to say, though.  Howard had some really neat ideas in creating a modern Wonderland and a modern Alice with a connection to the original girl.  I especially liked the backstory of the supposed mental illness suffered by all the women of the family.  This “illness” also relates to the author’s conception of what really happened in Wonderland all those years ago.

I was also impressed with how the author showed the ways in which a child might misinterpret what she was seeing, or how she would use her imagination to deal with the traumatic things that had happened to her.  The ways in which the characters that we know are actually frightening or ugly were fun to read about.  I would love to have seen some flashbacks showing Alice just after her return from Wonderland and her telling her story to Lewis Carroll.  The story would have had a stronger foundation with some extra information like that.  From reading other reviews, most people like the colorful and chaotic Wonderland sequences better, but I was drawn to the storytelling that is only peripherally related to that weird realm.

While not the great book that I was hoping for, Splintered contains some extremely creative ideas and a deliciously skewed vision of Wonderland.  Tim Burton fans will probably find a lot to like in this book, but if you’ve read books like Alice I Have Been, you may find yourself wanting more.