By Cynthia Bujnicki
Alice almost lost her life to Nightmares, creatures from the dark underbelly of Wonderland. However, now she is a warrior who fights them, keeping them from harming humans and Wonderlandian’s alike. However, with school, a curfew, and a slipping GPA, no skill or weapon in her arsenal can keep her safe from her mom’s wrath and her high-maintenance best-friend. However, when her mentor gets poisoned, Alice must risk everything and venture deep into Wonderland and battle the thickening darkness.
Diversity is so necessary for literature and representation matters, those two things beyond anything else make this novel compelling and worth the read. Alice is a cos-playing heroine, and she is also black. Those two things set her apart and make her a compelling character. She has warmth, and while she faces challenges within Wonderland as she battles nightmares, she also faces challenges as a black girl in a world where her skin color puts her at risk, putting her mother on high alert. The mother-daughter dynamic is vibrant as well as realistic because her mother is worried, as most parents, especially those of color, are when an innocent person loses their life. This unfortunate event puts them at odds because Alice has a responsibility to Wonderland as a Dreamwalker, but this is not something she can tell her mother, at least not yet, making for effective tension. No parent wants to tell their kid they cannot be a superhero, but no parent also wants their kid to be risking their lives on a day-to-day basis.
The real-world dynamics are flushed out, even if the secondary characters lack a certain level of depth. Alice’s best-friend is so high-maintenance she verges on being unlikable, and everyone else, sure, they are cool, but they do not make the reader care about them as much as Alice cares. In facts, it is Alice’s devotion to others that makes the reader care about her friends who pretty much only serve the plot at typical story devices to move the story along.
Overall the story is rich and unique as far as retellings go. It addresses real-world crises, highlighting the dangerous ramifications within a fantastical setting. The characters are fun, and the play on names allows the reader to enjoy the allusions to the original tale of wonderland. Alice herself is a very formidable character; she is unique and relatable as she struggles with her social life, school work, and her job on the side. It is a fun read and McKinney builds up the tension delightfully. It has the action and character development where it counts to keep the reader engaged leading to a compelling, addicting, and heartbreaking cliffhanger. (★★★★☆ | B+)