By: Jaimz Dillman
Young adult writer Liz Braswell has taken her turn at a new view on Wonderland in UNBIRTHDAY, A TWISTED TALE. The Disney series has made the New York Times Best Sellers List, and for good reason. The premise asks the question, "What if Wonderland was in peril, and Alice was very, very late?"
Giving readers a different look at well-known stories, Braswell's version finds us meeting up with Alice 11 years after her first trip down the rabbit hole. Now an adult at 18, she has responsibilities expected of her, mainly from her older sister and mother, and in usual Alice fashion, she's not too thrilled with the idea of following their rules.
The memories she has of her last visit have faded to dream-like flashes every now and again, but she hasn't stopped trying to find a way back to the Mad Tea Party. Based in the Victorian era, women haven't gotten the right to vote yet in Kexford. Girls were expected to become respectable young ladies and marry respectable young men, and certainly not dawdle around town with an interest in photography. And obviously, none of this sits well with Alice.
Escaping the constraints of her older sister's constant matchmaking, Alice finds solace with her Aunt Viviane, who encourages her niece's creativity. The duo develop Alice's pictures in her home darkroom. What Alice sees though was not quite what she expected. Her friends from the other side of the looking glass are appearing in her photos rather than the people who posed. The Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the caterpillar, and a dark-haired girl named Mary Ann are seemingly reaching out to her, and most of them are pleading for her help.
Something is wrong in Wonderland, and I'll give you one guess as to why. A certain monarch has gone haywire, and caused the ruin of all of her land and people. Once Alice finds her way back, she's thrust, somewhat involuntarily, into becoming the leader of the rag-tag band gathered to make things right.
Throughout the story, you're brought back and forth between Wonderland and "Angleland." Alice can see the similarities between the lands, and uses that information to solve riddles that help them at both ends. She's matured from her days as a girl exploring Wonderland. Now the cakes and drinks that would help her grow and shrink before empower her in other ways, leading her to figure out the path to victory for herself.
There's a political slant within the two worlds with smarmy politicians, underlying racial tension that's not-so-hidden, and learning what some think is best isn't necessarily good for all. There are other moments along her journey where realism creeps into her safe space that is Wonderland. Seeing her friends suffer drives Alice further to make things right. Double crossing, flipping back and forth between lands, and the confusion and frustration of growing up build the conflict of the story, leading up to the discovery of who's who in one land and the other. I don't think this is the last we'll see of Wonderland stories.
I was able to finish the book in a few days, and I'm sure young readers will find the characters and Braswell's imagery compelling. We've been treated to series showing the flip side of classic stories before, from authors such as Gregory Maguire with Wicked - but this series from Disney gives us the whole run of fairytales we thought we knew. More titles from Braswell include Straight on Till Morning and coming soon, What Once Was Mine. Other authors featured are Jen Calonita with Go the Distance, Mirror, Mirror, and Conceal, Don't Feel and Elizabeth Lim, who penned So This Is Love.
I'm already looking forward to my next volume, and sharing the books with my 12-year-old daughter. I think this is just the kind of thing that will help keep summer screen time down and creativity up.