Unbirthday Book Review
A VERY MERRY UNBIRTHDAY TO YOU, BOOK LOVERS!
You may have noticed Jordan and I have been less active this month (newsletter subscribers know what we’ve been up to lately) due to life becoming extra busy as our world reopens.
To celebrate getting over the hump and things slowing back down (hopefully), as well as the Sun moving into fiery Leo, I want to pop on here with a review for a fun, playful book that speaks to authenticity, creativity, intuition, and the inner child. Because I think everyone could use a little fun right now, and Wonderland is one of my favorite fun things.
Genre: YA Fairytale Retelling
Category: Cozy Read
Want to know more about how we categorize books? See our Glossary for details.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
It's been eleven years since Alice's trip to Wonderland, but she still loves nonsense, much to her older sister's dismay. Rather than focusing on society and finding a husband, Alice prefers to wander around taking photographs and developing them in her aunt Vivian's salon.
But when Alice's photos begin to depict strangely familiar faces—the Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, and others—in horrible circumstances, it becomes clear to Alice that she must find a way back to Wonderland.
Unbirthday by Liz Braswell wasn’t quite what I expected, in both good and bad ways. I’m not sure what I expected as far as plot, but this wasn't it. That’s not to say the book is bad—while it isn't perfect, there are certainly things that were spot on for me, like how the environment changes of its own accord and things don't make sense.
With this being a Disney book/series for young readers, I knew not to expect much darkness or depth. However, much like Braswell’s rendition of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, As Old as Time, I was pleasantly surprised to find splashes of the macabre in Alice’s changing photographs and Wonderland’s inhabitants. It wasn’t enough to put off young readers, but just enough to intrigue an older Wonderland fan.
I also appreciate the spin Braswell put on the characters; everyone in Alice’s world has a double, much like Dorothy’s “dream” in The Wizard of Oz. This allows her to see others as they truly are when she merges the two versions together to create a full picture. It's also a big part of her growth over the course of the story, as she constantly compares herself to her own double MaryAnn. As a result, Alice often feels inadequate for the job of rallying Wonderlandians against the Queen of Hearts.
In the end, Alice realizes that while she indeed is not like MaryAnn, her unique talents make her capable for the job; she just has to see her own strengths and believe in herself. I absolutely adore these themes on perspective, shadow, and integration.
Saving the world was one thing. Fixing it was another.
“Please don’t attempt to inform me what well-behaved girls do or don’t do, or assume I am well-behaved or wish to be well-behaved, or even if I am a girl. I am eighteen now, you know. If being naughty saves The Hatter, I will be the naughtiest, most rascally woman you ever laid your unfortunate eyes on. Now open that door.” –Alice to the Knave of Accounting
Alice is Chaotic-Good; she is a feminist, an ally, and totally willing to bend rules and get into trouble for a good cause. She further upsets norms by wearing pants and a monocle, associating with poor refugee children (and *gasp* treating them like humans!), speaking her mind, refusing to be small or submissive to please others, getting involved with progressive politics, using her strengths and talents to create awareness, organizing a hilarious and harmless demonstration, and marrying an immigrant.
We see that much of her rebelliousness is inherited by her Aunt Viv, who is an absolute QUEEN. She encourages Alice’s originality and whims, takes no shit from anyone, and is highly observant and free-thinking. There’s no doubt Viv’s spirit rubbed off on Alice.
At one point, Alice notices the rich being catered to as lower classes are forced to purchase food from concession stands. She later speaks out against the Queen of Hearts, reminding Wonderlandians that the only power the Queen has is that which they give her. Her bravery and willingness to speak out prompts a guard to say to Alice:
“Are you a knave or…a queen? You’re certainly not a pawn.”
He gets his answer when Alice saves Wonderland and is made a Queen of Wonderland, similar to the end of Carrol’s Alice Through the Looking Glass.
My biggest complaint is with the villains and the conflict itself. We know what the conflict is, but that’s about it. The Queen of Hearts is simply a tyrant who only cares about winning (sound familiar?), the rabbit’s motives are completely unknown until the end of the book, and we see almost nothing of them through the entirety of the story. They feel more like plot elements than fleshed-out characters. I wish they'd been more involved in the story and had more page-time.
That said, I appreciate the Wonderland logic behind Alice’s victory. The climax was fun to read, and I love the way Braswell shows that sometimes bad guys are good people doing what they think is best, fueled by deep grief and heartache.
While it wasn’t the most exciting or suspenseful read for an adult, it was a fun one. Entertainment aside, young readers will benefit from this book's messages on social issues and Alice's reminders that open-mindedness, curiosity, play, compassion, and balance are all important to life.
“Because, of course, the real world needs Nonsense, sometimes. Not all the time and not never. Just enough to remind us when real things get too ridiculous to be borne. And sometimes we have to create that Nonsense ourselves.”
Interested in grabbing a copy? Look for it at your local bookstores, or you can buy one here!