I was recently gifted an early copy of Juno Dawson’s latest book, Wonderland, a fantastically extravagant take on Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was so excited to read this book as I adored her book Clean and think Juno is a wonderful human being. Tomorrow is the UK publication day for Wonderland so you can easily get your hands on it!
Wonderland follows a girl named Alice who is attending a very privileged private school in England. She’s more of an outsider compared to many of her fellow students, most of which born into unimaginably rich families. Whilst looking for her friend Bunny, she finds a mysterious invitation to a three day long party called Wonderland, held only for the elite who can afford it. She then falls down the rabbit hole, a world of people and situations she has only glimpsed so far in her life. With many dark turns and thrilling moments, it’s a definite page turner.
I want to preface this little book chat by saying how the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is actually something I have never really enjoyed. I watched the Disney animation as a kid and it always creeped me out a bit – I don’t think I trusted any of the characters and didn’t enjoy a lot of what happened. However, I was intrigued by this story as it is an adult ‘version’ – I hesitate to use words like ‘version’ as this book and they way the story flows is very unique and different to anything I have read before. Wonderland takes a lot of inspiration from the original Alice stories, however it does not feel too familiar and it’s impossible to tell where the story will go.
This is an aspect of the book I adored. I love not knowing where a narrative will take me. I didn’t know the choices Alice herself would make half of the time, never mind the rest of the characters! It was full of twists and turns. Before we enter the party, the setting is established – similar to Clean and Meat Market in some ways but with clear and unique differences. The rich atmosphere has the same tones – I find it very easy to escape into these stories as it is a social circle and world so different to any I will ever be a part of. The richest of the rich living in mansions, inheriting millions from family. You hate them for their lack of self awareness but you’re simultaneously intrigued and drawn into the extravagant parties and lifestyles they have.
Alice is a fantastic protagonist. Her main aim is to find her friend, Bunny, and make sure she is okay. She uncovers more than she ever bargained for at Wonderland. We meet fantastic characters who both help and hinder her along the way. My personal favourite was Maxim – Juno’s vibrant evolution of the Mad Hatter. Throughout, Alice is processing her own thoughts and issues whilst trying to keep up in this ever changing atmosphere and keep focus of her goal to find Bunny. We meet reincarnations of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts – any Alice character you can think of! The drama escalates further before culminating in some truly shocking events that I will not spoil in any way here. The last half of the book in particular is wild and I cannot describe how quickly I flipped through the last few chapters to discover what was going to happen.
The dialogue about gender in the book is truly fantastic. Alice is transgender, something she speaks about within the first couple of chapters. It is something she doesn’t tell others about and she is under the impression that pretty much nobody at her school is aware. She doesn’t choose to discuss it with anyone but it is also a very important part of the story. Alice deliberates often how others would react to knowing and to her body and there are multiple sex scenes and discussions about sex in the book. They are such nuanced conversations and moments, brilliantly depicting a transgender character. It’s a fantastic LGBTQ+ book with so many important and interesting conversations about gender and sexuality. These conversations complement the storyline and characters – they are not randomly put in to tick a diversity quota. They are complex, intelligent and just brilliant to be honest. I highly recommend reading this for the LGBTQ+ aspects alone!
Juno also writes a fantastic depiction of mental illness. Alice struggles with her mental health, something that is brought up often and is very important to the storyline. We see her struggling with rather severe symptoms including hallucinations. I’m always worried about reading books featuring hallucinating or symptoms of psychosis as it is so often done badly however it is depicted really well here. It is not in any way romanticised, neither is it demonised. Alice’s mental health issues are dealt with sensitively and realistically and I am so grateful for that. The events happening around her may be completely unimaginable and fantastical at points but the representation of mental health never feels exaggerated.
Thank you to ED Public Relations and Hatchette for a gifted copy of Wonderland! I was so excited to read this and I’m super glad I have. It’s a truly wild ride of a book that you will not regret reading!