ELS librarian Samantha takes a mini-break with Simon James Green’s hilarious YA novel, Alex in Wonderland.
Sometimes you need a book that will make you laugh. The kind of snorting, warthog-like laughter that sends your breakfast – Coco Pops, of course – flying across the room, alarming both your cats and the strangers walking past your window. ‘Are you okay?’ the cats ask with their grumpy faces. ‘Yep!’ you reply. ‘Just reading about a teenage boy in a flamingo costume getting chased into the sea by a dog called Tyson’. The cats blink. ‘You really have to be there.’
Alex in Wonderland, the third book by Simon James Green, is a work of glorious, awkward art. It tells the story of Alex Button, a sixteen-year-old boy in desperate need of a job, new friends and a boyfriend. He hopes to find all these things at Wonderland, a shabby amusement arcade in his hometown of Newsands. The problem – one of Alex’s many, many problems – is that the debt-ridden Wonderland no longer fits into the gentrifying Newsands; it’s an eyesore, a black mark on the touristy seafront. When menacing letters begin to arrive at Wonderland, Alex and his new friends must band together to figure out the culprit and save their beloved workplace before it’s too late…
As a teenager who regularly slipped into Too Awkward to Function mode in social situations (like walking into the Post Office or passing another human in the street), I immediately identified with Alex. Even as he pushed my vicarious cringe-levels to dangerous levels, I couldn’t read his antics fast enough, especially his incredibly swoony, avocado and bacon sandwich fuelled romance with [READ IT AND SEE. I PROMISE THAT YOUR HEART WILL MELT]. The supporting characters, including friends Efia, Ben, Lemon Boy, Kem, and hellish near-stepmother Kendra, are brilliantly and vividly written. I particularly loved Maggie, the mysterious owner of Wonderland. In my head, I imagined her as Della, the sardonic mum from Caitlin Moran’s TV series Raised by Wolves. As with Della, you’re never quite sure where you stand with Maggie. Is she a tough love mentor figure, there to dole out sage advice? Or is there something else going on? Hmm.
In short: Like chips at the seaside, I couldn’t get enough of Alex in Wonderland. Full of hilarious set-pieces (see Alex’s first trip to the “Museum of Curiosities”), fizzy summer romance, lovable characters and wonderfully naff British charm, it is the perfect summer escape. Recommended for students in Year 9 upwards.
Alex in Wonderland is one of the books shortlisted for this year’s Cheshire Schools’ Book Award. We’ll be posting more content relating to the shortlist, including reviews and videos, in the coming weeks!