Unhinged (Splintered, #2)
By: A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: January 7th, 2014
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.
Em and I were debating the other day whether any of the Splintered sequels match up to the first book–or whether they even come close. Although I think the third book made an effort, I’m not sure Unhinged can have the same thing said of it. Whereas Splintered was an imaginative take on an old story, Unhinged was a somewhat bumbling attempt to match up to its predecessor. It had a few good points, but on the whole I was disappointed.
Part of the reason for this, now that I’ve read the entire series, is that Unhinged is suffering from serious middle-book syndrome. Splintered could have been a good standalone, and of course the third book, Ensnared, is going to deliver on all of the action and craziness, but Unhinged is a way of filling in the process from A to C. I feel like there needed to be something between Splintered and Ensnared, but I ended up feeling exasperated with a lot of the plot choices made in between.
Part of my dislike stemmed from the choice to set this book in the real world, rather than Wonderland or any affiliates. Part of the reason I so enjoyed the first book were the descriptions of Wonderland and the aura of beautiful insanity inherent. Unhinged robbed me of all of the description and craziness I loved. I also didn’t feel as if the plot fit well when put in the human world. What parts of Wonderland made it into this book felt shoehorned in, and out of place–which may have been deliberate, but was unsettling in a strange way. I especially disliked Morpheus’ human transition and his becoming a student at Alyssa’s high school. A) it felt like some awful teen drama, and B) it was literally unbelievable, that someone would transfer in the middle of exams, right before graduation.
The love triangle aspect also seemed to go from bad to worse. I disliked it in Splintered, but it was bearable. In Unhinged, it felt like one drama after another. Jeb couldn’t do anything right the entire book, and as mentioned, Morpheus felt out of place, and really just there to cause even more drama. Even though the plot so clearly set up a way out of Alyssa having to choose between them, the guys persisted in peeing competitions to the point where I wasn’t sure why Alyssa didn’t just ditch them both.
In fact, Alyssa seemed incapable of making a single lasting decision this entire book, which was irksome. The book began with Morpheus telling her that Red was destroying all of Wonderland, which I thought would be a catalyst for action, but it wasn’t. Alyssa spent the entire book delaying making a decision, which seemed irresponsible (although I suppose she did basically lose against Red the first time). Her reasoning mostly seemed to be Prom and also making things right with Jeb. I wasn’t sure why she was so convinced that returning to Wonderland would be permanent (this is the only reason I can think of that she would be this torn over SAVING HER KINGDOM FROM THE BIG BAD).
There is one thing I did like in this book, and that was Alyssa’s mother. I mean, I could have skipped the whole ‘I hate you’ temper tantrum between Alyssa and Alison, but I appreciated how Alison showed off a side that was strong, and wise, and powerful, and I wish that Alyssa had appreciated that more, although she did eventually learn to appreciate it. I felt as if her relationship with her parents–with all of its highs and lows–was very real, and that even the disagreements didn’t stop them from loving each other.
Something else I really appreciated was that A.G. Howard portrays mental illness fairly realistically. I didn’t mention this in Splintered, but it was something I noticed and liked. Here, too, I think Howard did well. There is such a stigma towards mental illness that Howard shows in several ways–mostly, Alyssa’s dad’s reactions to her seeming ‘decline’, and his constant worry about his wife losing her mind again. Even though this worry is, for him, rooted in love, his real fear of the illness of his family is also apparent. In Splintered, too, I could understand Alyssa’s fear of inherited madness (even though it’s proven to not be ‘madness’, as such). As someone with a family history of mental illness, there is a constant wariness there, a constant question in the back of my mind. I think we as a society need to change our thinking towards mental illness, and pointing out the ways in which we judge and stigmatize it is a good first step. And although I had a lot of problems with the ending of Unhinged, I did appreciate how Alyssa managed to finally embrace her ‘madness’ and use it to her advantage.
At the end, I think things were set up for an interesting third book, one that rises back up to the challenge that Splintered set. But I wish that Unhinged had been less of an in-between book, filled with less drama and hesitation, and been able to stand strong in its own right.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.