Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she’s always dreamed of.
That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland–where she (partly) belongs.
As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.
If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she’ll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head. (Find it on Goodreads.)
After finishing Unhinged, there are a few things about the back-cover copy that strike me as pretty ironic. First off, there’s the fact that Alyssa finds her mom overly protective, when that’s basically Jeb’s defining character trait and she finds no fault in that.
More importantly, there’s the last paragraph. It seems to imply that Alyssa is torn about staying in the human realm versus returning to Wonderland, that she’s concerned about the consequences of staying in her world and what it could mean to the people she loves. When in reality, she spent most of the book refusing to even consider the possibility of leaving.
Wonderland’s in trouble? As rightful queen, she’s the only one who can save it? Not Alyssa’s problem. Sucks to be a Wonderlandian, but she’s going to prom and getting into art school, dang it.
Ultimately, besides Jeb and Alyssa herself, that’s my main frustration with this series–it has so much potential, but it does almost nothing with it. Unhinged is basically a hulking Exhibit A to back that claim up. The whole thing felt like setup for what should’ve been the rest of the book–except there wasn’t any rest of the book, because that’s all there was.
Initially, I was cool with that. It felt like we were going to chill out in the human realm for the first little bit, then go vaulting into Wonderland, where we obviously belonged–typical pacing stuff to ease us up the rollercoaster of plot. Only…that never happened. There was no rollercoaster. There were multiple inciting incidents, catalysts that should’ve propelled the story forward and fostered some plot development. But each time one came her way, instead of choosing to actually do something, Alyssa stuck her head in the sand. Like an ostrich, or a really obstinate five-year-old. Talk about maddening.
Sadly, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t any more impressed with Alyssa this time around. She’s still whiny, and insists on going into excruciating detail both about her feelings and about each and every outfit any character wears. Basically, if you want a passive, static main character, she’s your girl.
On the other hand, Unhinged delved much deeper into Alyssa’s parents, and it was nice to see them fleshed out some. Now that Alyssa’s mom is home again, it’s unsettled the balance Alyssa and her dad had developed when it was just the two of them. I liked that. Really, it seems like the most realistic outcome to me, and it kind of reminded me of the Meggie-Resa dynamic in Cornelia Funke’s Inkspell. Mother and daughter are both used to being Alpha Female around the house, and it takes some adjustment and tension to reconfigure that power balance. It was also nice to learn more about Alyssa’s parents’ past, and to get the promise of more of that.
Once again, Morpheus was Atlas, carrying this series on his winged shoulders. There’s some nice insight into his character, but he’s still the charming, scheming, incredibly grey character he was in the first book. And once again–in the absence of any real plot this time–he kept me reading.
For me, besides Morpheus, the strongest aspect of Splintered was the Wonderland world-building. So I don’t understand why it seemed like a good idea to set Unhinged entirely in the human realm. Honestly, it kind of felt like the author wanted to save the Big Showdown with Queen Red for the end of the series, but she also wanted the series to be a trilogy, so we ended up with a filler middle book. On the plus side, she did have the sense to bring a few of the more notable Wonderland characters over to our world, which spiced things up. It still felt like filler, but filler with that quirky, somewhat warped Wonderland edge to it.
Basically, you could read the back-cover copy and know everything you need to read the third book, Ensnared (set to release in January 2015). It just trots through the same motions over and over again. Wonderland and its problems inevitably seep into her world, and Alyssa inevitably shrugs it off, because she doesn’t want to get involved. Rinse and repeat.
That ending, though. Dang. I have to give major props to the ending. Despite myself and the first two books, I’ll probably end up reading the last book because of it–without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that Alyssa’s safety nets have been removed, and she’ll hopefully have no choice but to step up and finally become a strong protagonist.
Unhinged didn’t bring much of anything new to the table, so I recommend it on the basis of Splintered. If you liked that one, you’ll probably like this one too. If you hated it, you probably wouldn’t read this one anyways.
If you’re just kind of ambivalent about the whole thing, you’re in excellent company, and we both ride out hope for a better future.