Red Rogue Press (2019)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (02/2021)
H.J. Ramsay’s “Ever Alice” is an enthralling and incredibly clever spin on Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice in Wonderland.” 15-year-old Alice is in trouble. She’s been spinning stories about a world no one else can see, and now she’s landed in an asylum – but she doesn’t belong there. Not really. Alice is not crazy. In order to gain her freedom and go home, however, she is given the option to undergo a new, experimental procedure. Feeling like she has no option but to agree, she travels with her doctor and nurse to a Switzerland asylum, but once she’s forcefully strapped to a metal table, she realizes she’s made a big mistake. When the White Rabbit comes to save her at the last minute, she has to make another choice: stay and risk the doctors or escape to Wonderland and kill the Queen of Hearts. Once in Wonderland, Alice is faced with going undercover as one of the Queen’s ladies’ maids. As she tries to get used to the strange daily goings-on in Gardenia City, she’ll meet a handsome prince, thwart unforeseen enemies, and have to gather all her courage in order to complete the mission she was tasked with. When all is over, however, will Alice truly be able to go home? Or will Wonderland decide to keep her as its own?
“Ever Alice” is a not only a brilliant re-imagining of the original “Alice in Wonderland,” it also serves to act as a unique, but fortified portrayal of one of the darkest mental treatments ever devised: the lobotomy. It was immediately recognizable to me that the “experimental procedure” Alice was going to be subjected to was such a procedure. She would become one of thousands of patients – many of them children – who would have their brains literally scrambled in the guise of treatment.
Alice’s plights in “Ever Alice” I believe can be connected to the different stages of the procedure and its aftermath. I can see the plunge down the Rabbit Hole as the actual procedure being performed, and the events that happen afterward in Wonderland as Alice’s young mind trying it’s hardest to come back to itself again. At the end of the book, when Alice’s response to the treatment is exposed and she is told of her parents’ deaths, there is a brief moment when it seemed like she was almost able to focus. It makes me wonder if Alice’s near executions during her time in Wonderland were actually her mind attempting to wake up and focus, but since Wonderland is now acting as her safe space, her brain finally resists and falls back into the sanctuary of Wonderland’s quirks and smiling faces. I can also connect characters in Wonderland, such as Bess and Constance, to people in Alice’s real life, such as Nurse Hazel and her own older sister.
Ramsay’s portrayal of Wonderland in “Ever Alice” is absolutely exquisite. The language, the different types of characters and living beings, and customs were so reminiscent of the original story. It is obvious that the author spent a lot of time not only imagining her version of Wonderland but researching and reviewing to make sure it not only read well but felt authentic. I am a fan of fairytale retellings in general, but it is not easy to take a beloved classical world and make it your own, and it takes a special kind of talent to be able to really execute the final product well.
“Ever Alice” is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure that a wonderfully wide range of readers will enjoy. The young protagonist and fairy-tale world will appeal to younger readers, while the twists, turns and allegorical connotations will intrigue older, more mature readers. There is something for everyone to love; and this story is definitely one to endure for many years to come.