Splintered’s imagery is amazingly dark and at times twisted, a kind that you don’t often find in young adult literature despite the recent turn to more dystopian landscapes (such as Julianna Baggott’s “Pure Trilogy” and M.T. Anderson’s Feed), which made this novel a pleasure to read.
Alyssa is the great great great something or other granddaughter of the original Alice, only the most recent descendent to have been cursed with a kind of madness thanks to the mistakes Alice made whilst in Wonderland. Alyssa and her mother can hear the voices of plants and insects: a grasshopper Alyssa picks up at the skater park whispers “doomed” (18) and her mother sympathises with the cut flowers who wish to be put back into the ground and die in peace. It’s a madness that has sent Alyssa’s mother to an insane asylum and Alyssa fears she’s walking the same path as her dreams only become more intense.
”…I stumble across a chessboard in Wonderland, tripping over jagged squares of black and white. Only I’m not me. I’m Alice in a blue dress and lacy pinafore, trying to escape the ticktock of the White Rabbit’s pocket watch. He looks like he’s been skinned alive- nothing but bones and bunny ears…” (7).
But then Alyssa discovers Carroll’s tales are more fact than fiction and her dreams are based in the real Wonderland, a twisted Wonderland that thrives on the grotesque and bizarre.
The White Rabbit with its iconic pocket watch is instead “a tiny, dwarfish creature the size of a bunny. The legs, arms, and body are humanoid but fleshless- a bleached-out skeleton” with a “face of an old man” and “long white antlers sprout from behind each of his small human ears.” Alyssa notes how young Alice could’ve mistaken the emaciated creature for a rabbit, “his horns look like ears when viewed in the shadows” (101). Even his name “White, Rabid,” implies a somewhat more disturbing narrative than the charming stories by Carroll.
It’s up to Alyssa to return to Wonderland to make amends and save her mother, falling through mirrors and down rabbit holes in her quest to right wrongs and prove she’s not insane. It’s a unique adaption of the original books, playing with the idea of the grotesque and the Other. Alyssa often struggles with her own dark side, her ability to find “the tranquility amid the madness” (211), as she finds herself wanting to join in acts she initially declares are savage such as the infamous Feast of Beasts where a cooked duck gleefully attempts to avoid being walloped by mallets whilst clearly wanting to be eaten (212).
Whilst the ending appears to be a happy one, without giving away any spoilers, Alyssa can never be her true self in the real world, making readers question her sanity all over again. The second book in the series, Unhinged suggests by its name alone that the themes of madness, truth and fiction are further explored.
Splintered takes you down the rabbit hole to a Wonderland that’s whimsically warped and disturbingly enchanting, encouraging us to question our perceptions and view our own darker natures peering back at us from the Looking Glass.