McKinney’s debut novel introduces a no-nonsense, cosplaying, dark-skinned Alice with coily hair charged with defending two worlds while still making it home for curfew.
The same night 17-year-old Atlanta resident Alice Kingston’s father dies, she’s attacked by a Nightmare, “a manifestation of humanity’s fears,” and saved by “punk rock Prince Charming” Addison Hatta, guardian of a gateway in the Looking Glass pub between our world and Wonderland, a dreamscape of Earth. Hatta recruits Alice to fight alongside him, and from that first meeting the story races readers through her metamorphosis from lost, grieving teen to a still-grieving, world-saving, dagger-wielding “black Buffy.” McKinney beautifully exposes the immensity of the pressure Alice feels to balance her duties as daughter, friend, and Dreamwalker, emphasizing the precariousness of Alice’s position as a black girl alternately worried about the threat of police violence in her community and the mysterious menaces in Wonderland. The nuanced representations of relationships, platonic and not (there is a dreamy, romantic lesbian love story), between the inclusive cast of characters are highlights of the text. Uneven pacing leads to sometimes feeling one step beyond the action and without sufficient worldbuilding. While representations of race on Earth are clearly established, in Wonderland they are conflated and lacking in nuance (Addison is white, and other Wonderland residents are described as appearing Latinx and East Asian).
A thrilling, timely novel that ensures readers will be curiouser for a sequel. (Fantasy. 14-18)