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Book Review: Alice in Wonderland High

July 1, 2015

Jacket image, Alice in Wonderland High by Rachel ShaneAlice in Wonderland High
by Rachel Shane
Merit Press
from Book Expo

Hilary and I both grabbed copies of this charming YA at the Book Expo, because the whimsical premise appealed to us.Alice in Wonderland, retold at a high school with environmentalism and zaniness? Sure! And because the cover design was pretty.

Flipping through the pages, we could tell that Alice’s narrative voice would make a fun read as well:

“If there was one thing I’d learned so far in high school, it was this: good girls are just bad girls who don’t get caught.”

“My sneakers squeaked in a desperate attempt to announce my presence. Traitors.”

“Watching Whitney play an innocent flirt was like watching an army sergeant take dance lessons.”

I do love first-person snark in a YA novel.

The story of Alice in Wonderland is very much a driving force throughout the novel, from naming characters Alice Liddell, and pushing further by having her say things like “Curiouser and Curiouser!”, Whitney Lapin (she’s always late), to Chess Katz (who has a terrific smile)… mushrooms and gardens and having one of Alice’s newfound friends ask Alice “Who are you?” through a haze of pot smoke.

Reading this was very much an experience of:

animated gif from the Avengers of Steve Rogers saying

Updated, the Alice elements and lit refs were constructed inventively and plausibly. The environmental activism plot is both timely and allows for a wild garden atmosphere that fits with the original Alice in Wonderland, but also raises the stakes. (I especially liked Whitney’s brand of eco-pranks, planting defiant gardens in protest.) Setting scenes that introduce Alice to new friends who are varying degrees of sane and speaking in riddles mirrors the feel of Alice’s adventures.

I wish I’d read this while I was still a teenager. As someone [redacted number] years older than most of the focal characters, I had moments of wanting to smile fondly at the intensity, the single-minded urgency of their feelings and their dialogue, or cringe at the thought that I’d probably written something similar in some high school journal. Which is a way of saying that the intensity of first crushes, love and kisses, of friendship and possible betrayals, and just being in high school, is captured perfectly in the voices of Alice and her friends.

Highly recommend handing this to a teenager who enjoys whimsy in a YA plot, or someone who will enjoy catching the lit refs.

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