I recently finished Splintered by A.G. Howard, the first of my Debut Author Challenge reads, and I both hate and love to say that the rest of the books on my list have a lot to live up to. This book has everything--beautiful prose, stunning images, real characters, magic, fairies, romances, heartache. My word. I'm still reeling.
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
Why I read It: Debut Author Challenge. I was perusing the list of 2013 YA debuts, and the cover for this book really stuck out to me. Then, when I saw it dealt with Lewis Caroll and Alice Liddell, I knew I wanted to read it. I love when people answer the questions I've always had--why and where did these stories come from.
ZOMG Yes: So much of this book was absolutely perfect. It's going to be hard for me to give it a fair review without at least a few spoilers. While I'll keep the serious ones in white, if you don't want to know anything more about this book than the above summary, then I recommend you go buy it and read it. Leave my review behind.
First, I fell in love with almost every character in this story. Alyssa, Jeb (the love interest), Morpheus (the Darkling-esque other love interest), Rabid White, Grenadine, The Ivory Queen, Gossamer, even Taelor. All of these characters had faults and frustrations, driving me to yell at them and at sometimes hate them. But I also loved them. They're all so real, and that's what I always want when I both read and write. Real characters.
The world building is also phenomenal. The images are striking, haunting. The descriptions and the imaginings are so thought out and perfectly placed. This story is a mix of fantasy and horror and an epic love story all rolled into one.
Spoilery Ponderings: This full section will be in white. But before I put it there, for those of you who haven't yet read the book, I'm so terribly impressed with what Howard did with the love story(ies?) in this book--how she took us through the developments, the feelings, the heartaches, and then the way she ended it blew me out of the water. On to the white text!
Let's talk about the Jeb-Alyssa-Morpheus love triangle. As I reached the last 75 percent of the story, I didn't think there was a way to resolve it that would satisfy me. Part of me (most of me?) wanted Alyssa to stay behind in Wonderland, be the queen, and love Morpheus. Also--there are some spoilers from Shadow and Bone in here. You've been warned.
But I love Jeb too, and Howard did such a damn good job of REALLY making me love him. When I think of characters like Jeb, the first that comes to mind for me is Mal from Shadow and Bone. And while I liked Mal, I didn't love him. He was the good guy, the one who was solid--the best-friend-turned-lover. Jeb, while fitting into this category, is nothing like the others who live here. He's broken and beautiful and dark. This love triangle was never one of light vs. dark, good guy vs. tortured mystery. It was real and true and heart wrenching because both love interests had something to offer Alyssa. Each of them was a part of her. And to choose one over the other? It was to give herself up.
I thought she was going to pick Jeb and leave Morpheus behind. But after she made her wish, and the whole thing with the bandersnatch happened, I didn't know what to thing. My hopes were dashed. And then the end came. Oh glorious day.
I don't know what I think about soul mates or one person loving multiple people, or any of that, but I loved where Howard left this story. She found a way to keep Alyssa true to herself without really giving up any part of what she found on her journey into Wonderland. And that's made all the difference for me.
Kthxbai: This is only the fourth book I've read this year, but so far I have to say it's been my favorite. The way the characters moved me, the way Howard helped Alyssa find herself and then be the beautiful woman she found, has given me not only another author that I will follow and read, but another author to look up to.