Alice By Heart by Steven Sater

A1nqJrizc4L._AC_UY218_Alice By Heart by Steven Sater. Razorbill, 9780451478139, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 1

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Historical fiction

What did you like about the book?  This homage to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There recounts the story of a young girl named Alice Spencer, living in London during the Blitz. Her friend and neighbor Alfred introduces her to the books, but later becomes tubercular. After a long separation due to Alfred’s failing health, they are reunited, only to be faced with aerial bombardment. Alice manages to dig Alfred out from a pile of rubble and together they reach the safety of a tube station. The bedraggled inhabitants and medical staff all take on the personas of Wonderland characters, including Alfred as the White Rabbit, a screechy Red Cross nurse and doddering doctor who stand in for the King and Queen of Hearts, and a street urchin who calls to mind the Cheshire Cat. Sater wrote this novelization of his 2012 musical Alice by Heart; together with partner Duncan Sheik, they also created the 2006 multi-award winning musical Spring Awakening. Period photographs of bomb shelters, children playing in gas masks and small renditions of John Tenniel’s original Alice illustrations break up the text. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I found this book to be almost unreadable. I am very familiar with the Alice books and have read extensively (both fiction and nonfiction) about WWII in London, so I can’t even claim that it was lack of familiarity with the source material that caused my confusion and disengagement. Run-on, pell-mell sentences left me exhausted. I had difficulty following the plot and didn’t find the allusions to Carroll’s work interesting or illuminating.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Can’t recommend it. For readers who want Alice tie-ins, I would instead offer Heartless by Marissa Meyer, a great re-telling from the point of view of the Queen of Hearts. Or if they were interested in the Blitz, the duo of time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis.

Who should buy this book? High school or public library

Where would you shelve it? YA

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: April 28, 2020

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