A Disturbing Return to Wonderland

Cover of Unhinged by A. G. HowardUnhinged by A. G. Howard. New York: Amulet Books, 2014.

Alyssa has been back from Wonderland for a year. During that time she has avoided telling her boyfriend, Jeb, the truth about what happened prom night the previous year. She’s finally decided to come clean when who should show up but Morpheus. He wants Alyssa’s help to rescue Wonderland again. After all, she is still the Red Queen, and that comes with some responsibilities. But Alyssa wants to leave Wonderland behind and focus on her human life. But Wonderland won’t leave her alone. As she gets drawn deeper into the tangle of problems, she will have to face some shocking family secrets. Can she save both Wonderland and the people she loves?

I was really looking forward to reading Unhinged because I enjoyed Splintered so much. I enjoy fractured fairy tales, and Howard’s Wonderland was a delightfully creepy version. I admit to having been torn between Morpheus and Jeb in that book. So I was dismayed to find myself seriously tempted not to finish Unhinged. The first half of the book was extremely slow with nothing happening. Alyssa had become a whiny twerp who wanted to turn her back on netherling heritage, no matter what the expense to the creatures who lived in Wonderland. Even when it becomes clear that there is a real threat to the people in the human world whom she loves, she is still slow to act. There are way too many people telling way too many lies in order to set up the conflict. There would actually be very little conflict if not for all the lies and deception. That may work for a psychological thriller, but not for a fantasy adventure.

But what really bothered me about this story was Morpheus. I realize that for many people, that is unfathomable. He’s the dark, mysterious bad boy with a heart of gold. His motives are good. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that consistently lies to Alyssa and manipulates her. He even conspires with her mom to lie to her some more. He leaves no room for her to have any feelings or desires that aren’t what he wants for her. And don’t get me started on how he manipulated Jeb, endangering both Jeb and, ultimately, Alyssa. Yet Alyssa always forgives him. In fact, she forgives him way too easily for that huge deception!

Jeb’s not perfect. He is jealous and possessive of Alyssa but fails to recognize that she may have any reason to feel insecure. He knows Morpheus is manipulative and not trustworthy. But whenever he sees Alyssa with Morpheus, Jeb always assumes the worst of Alyssa. But it is unreasonable for her to question the mysterious art patron who wants to be Jeb’s new muse.

As if leaving Jeb in the dark didn’t cause enough problems, Alyssa and her mother insist on keeping her Dad in the dark, too. Because all of the lies and deception have worked real well so far. (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes here.) It’s only when Alyssa is able to start to unravel some of the truth that she is able to start to solve the problems they all face.

On the good side, the final third of the book felt like a return to the story of Splintered. I wish I could discuss the one section of the book that I really enjoyed. But I can’t do that without some serious spoilers. Suffice it to say that Alyssa finally gets it together and makes her peace with who she is. She also sets up the next book really well, so well, in fact, that I am looking forward to reading it despite the issues I had with this one. I blame the problems with Unhinged on the trend for all YA stories to be trilogies. It felt like a lot of padding to fill a middle book. But, assuming that the third book is more in line with the first, I think this story was better suited to two books – or even one extra long one.

Still, I don’t know if I can forgive Morpheus for his actions in this book. I feel betrayed. I’m really bothered that so many people have bought into the dark, mysterious stranger trope and are overlooking his outrageous behavior. Frankly, he’s a pretty scary guy. His emotions are volatile, and he’ll do pretty much anything to get his way. Sure, he saves people who matter to Alyssa. But I suspect he does it, not because he cares what happens to them, but because it makes Alyssa feel indebted to him. His behavior sets off warning bells for me. I worry that readers caught up in his bad-boy appeal will overlook some seriously scary character traits.

On a completely different note – what’s with the purple ink? I really despise colored inks. It makes it hard on my eyes to read the book. Yeah, I know, I quiet a bit older than the target audience. But it’s so gimmicky. Does it really bring in any extra readers? Because it is seriously annoying for some of us.

I give this book 3.5 stars, though all of the stars were really earned in the last third of the book. I’m not sure that I will recommend this book to teens, probably only to those I know well enough so that I can discuss my concerns with them.

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About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, YA books and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Disturbing Return to Wonderland

  1. booksnquilts says:

    The more I think about Morpheus’ actions in this book, the more convinced I am that he has an abusive personality. After the major crisis, completely set up and orchestrated by Morpheus, where Alyssa is almost killed and Jeb is left mentally damaged, Morpheus tells Alyssa that it’s actually her fault because she didn’t tell Jeb everything. And she accepts that!

  2. Pingback: Sharing Secrets With A Stranger | Writing 'Bout Reading

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