Wonderland is a thrilling and dark reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, set in the same universe as Juno Dawson’s previous two YA novels, Clean and Meat Market. Alice is a trans girl who goes to an exclusive private girls school, where she’s mostly invisible apart from her dyed blue hair and the fact she missed a few months of school last year (nobody knows it was due to mental health issues). When Bunny, a rich girl with a reputation for going missing who Alice spent an exhilarating evening with, disappears and nobody seems to care, Alice starts investigating and is drawn into the world of ‘Wonderland’, an elite weekend party for ‘old money’ teens. And suddenly she’s a gatecrasher miles from home and trying to work out what is real.
It was hard not to be excited for a third book to follow Clean and Meat Market, which both exposed dark realities in the modern world using sharp, witty characters. Wonderland takes the two a step further, looking not only at issues of mental health, gender, and privilege, but combining it with a tense thriller-like retelling of Alice in Wonderland set over a single weekend. One of the best things about the book is that is takes the teen horror plot, which often tends to paint the villain or perpetrator as having some unidentified mental health condition, and complicates it, so mental health becomes part of the narrative. It feels like a combination of elements of Clean and Meat Market (there’s some cameos and extended references to characters from both, but it also combines the drink and drug fuelled socialite world of Clean with a character who’s an outsider to it, like in Meat Market) with some of the tension and murderous drama of the Point Horror books I loved as a teenager.
Alice is a wonderful protagonist with her Doc Martens and cynicism, wanting to be accepted but also not to fit in with the people so rich they can’t even understand what her life is like as someone less rich and not born with it. A lot of the issues she deals with will be relatable to a lot of people (whether around fitting in, mental health, gender, or figuring out pansexuality), and will probably help others to empathise, even though the world of Wonderland is very unlike anything most people will ever experience. The Alice in Wonderland elements work well not only on a narrative level, but to bookend the whirlwind weekend as something that has changed Alice’s life, but also with the expectation she’ll return to school, her family, and her best friend Dinah at some point once she’s out of ‘Wonderland’.
There’s more you could say about the novel, which has a vibe that is fast, clever, and dangerous—exactly as expected—but it’s better to just dive into its maze (whilst heeding the content warnings at the start). Probably ideal for older teenagers who enjoy similar teen dramas with hard-hitting themes, but also ideal for anyone who used to love Point Horror and wants something that’s a bit more up to date and relevant (plus full of literary references).