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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

London, 1940. Amidst the rubble of the Blitz of World War II, fifteen-year-old Alice Spencer and her best friend, Alfred, are forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. Sick with tuberculosis, Alfred is quarantined, with doctors saying he won't make it through the night. In her desperation to keep him holding on, Alice turns to their favorite pastime: recalling the book that bonded them, and telling the story that she knows by heart--the story of Alice in Wonderland. What follows is a stunning, fantastical journey that blends Alice's two worlds: her war-ravaged homeland being held together by nurses and soldiers and Winston Churchill, and her beloved Wonderland, a welcome distraction from the bombs and the death, but a place where one rule always applies: the pages must keep turning. But then the lines between these two worlds begin to blur. Is that a militant Red Cross Nurse demanding that Alice get BACK. TO. HER. BED!, or is it the infamous Queen of Hearts saying...som…

Alice by Heart

by Steven Sater

Overall Book Review:

he author’s note at the beginning of the book explains how he created a stage musical from the original work and then a few years later he was approached about making a book from the stage musical.  So, this novel is an evolution of book to musical back to book format.  In all fairness, I will need to open this review with the confession that I have never read the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; neither have I seen the musical Alice by Heart.  Perhaps if I had, this book would have made more sense.  Perhaps if I had, then I would declare the evolution and transfigurations brilliant.  But, alas, I have not and so my experience with the novel Alice by Heart was a confused and tedious one.

The writing style was unique with its punctuation, vocabulary, and sentence structure.  There were 1940’s characters that obviously echoed the characters from Wonderland.  The scenes between the 1940’s Underground station and the book and the in-between (?) were so fluid as to be disorienting–although there were glimpses of the theatrical roots to the scenes that hinted at what could be better achieved in a staged rendition of the work.  The scenes that made the most sense were the flashback which were in italics and written in more of a straightforward telling.  The rest of the time the reader was left to try and suss out how much of this was really happening and how much, if any, was happening only in the character’s mind, and ultimately, if any of it happened at all or if it was primarily a symbolic portrayal of states of being.  Being so untethered and disoriented, it was difficult to engage in a narrative that didn’t have much of a plotline and was some kind of internal, mental journey for Alice.  

So, Philistine that I am, this written effort was wasted on me.  However, for those die-hard fans of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or of the musical, Alice by Heart, my guess is that they will enjoy it and find new layers to explore.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Razorbill

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  15 religious exclamations; 1 derogatory name; 3 anatomical terms.

Violence/Gore:  Many references to currently happening and (past) bombing of London during WWII; character recalls running through bombed city and bricks falling on friend, injuring; report a girl killed in bombing raid; historical photo of soldier, who appears to be dead; character recalls bombing that destroyed her house, probably killed her sister, and the deaths of others; sick character coughs blood; it is understood that a character eventually dies but it is never explicitly stated; character “man-handled” roughly  a couple of times; personal property taken from a character and destroyed; two characters struggle; character sees a bloodied girl on a stretcher; reference to bodies blown to bits.

Sex/Nudity:  Several separate references to a teenager’s snugly fitting blouse and others looking at her chest; character thinks about kissing upon a few occasions; sexual innuendo; boy gives unwanted attention to a girl, putting arm around her, restraining her; young man makes several crude references to his genitals with innuendo; boy smacks a girl’s bottom.

Mature Subject Matter:

World War II, illness (tuberculosis), death.

Alcohol / Drug Use:

A young man (age unclear) smokes opium; caterpillars (Alice in Wonderland) smoke; scene which is very unclear as to whether it is “in” or “out” of book where “caterpillars” pressure Alice into smoking in order to forget her troubles and stop time.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

An accountant and CPA by profession, I found myself a book reviewer for Squeaky Clean Reads by happenstance. When the opportunity came to transform that website into Compass Book Ratings, I was excited to seize it and meld my business background with my love of books. As the mother of three teenage sons, I have read a large number of children and young adult books and I believe that there is great value in a content review service. As much as we would love to read everything our children read, there just isn’t enough time. I also appreciate being able to select books for myself that are really worth my precious and limited reading time. I believe there is a book out there for everyone–they just have to find it!