As a huge fan of Simon James Green, I was delighted to receive an early reading copy of his brand new book, Alex in Wonderland! Huge thanks to Scholastic for sending me one! I wondered whether the book would be just as good as Simon’s previous books, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint – I read it in about three hours!
In the town of Newsands, painfully shy Alex is abandoned by his two best friends for the summer. But he unexpectedly lands a part-time job at Wonderland, a run-down amusement arcade on the seafront, where he gets to know the other teen misfits who work there. Alex starts to come out of his shell, and even starts to develop feelings for co-worker Ben… who, as Alex’s bad luck would have it, has a girlfriend.
Then as debtors close in on Wonderland and mysterious, threatening notes start to appear, Alex and his new friends take it on themselves to save their declining employer. But, like everything in Wonderland, nothing is quite what it seems…
I’ve said it on Twitter but will say it again here: Simon James Green is the king of awkward gay boys. Alex is a wonderful addition to the characters from previous books; he’s shy, awkward, doesn’t quite know how to flirt, and keeps falling for straight boys. Of course, that means a recipe for an entirely awkward summer shyly talking to – and falling for – Ben, who Alex is convinced is straight. The book doesn’t disappoint on the humour scale either, and is full of hilarious moments too, ranging from quick giggles to full on riotous laughter.
Alex in Wonderland is one of those perfect summer reads and teenagers everywhere will love to read about the adventures of these unlikely friends who pull together to create a brand new summer project in determination to save something they love. Alex also goes on a personal journey of building up his self confidence after a few months of being downtrodden by his dad’s new partner. It’s wonderful to read the blossoming that Alex goes through in this book, as well as the self love and growth that happens.
There’s mystery too, a common theme in Simon’s books! The staff of Wonderland start receiving threatening messages in the post, warning that they need to shut down or suffer the consequences. Alex and his new friends strive to save Wonderland, opting to remodel and bring in new faces, despite it usually being quite empty. All the while, Alex is juggling his crushes; the boy in the lemonade stand, Caleb, is quite handsome and flirts with Alex often, and Ben seems to mysteriously avoid any topic of his girlfriend… I won’t spoil what happens, but know that Alex does end up romantically involved and what follows is tooth-rottingly adorable.
However, Alex in Wonderland is not just a book about summer romance, mystery and friendships. It is also a book about gentrification, and how devastating this can be for residents. The Merriam-Webster definition of gentrification, for those who may not know, goes as follows:
“the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents”
This is so visible in this book. The townsfolk are being priced out, with fancy sourdough pizza joints popping up and local businesses being forced to close down to make way for swanky new apartment blocks and trendy businesses. Local people are moving away as they can no longer afford to live in Newsands, and there are many references of richer Londoners moving there, only to be able to commute back and forth for work. It’s a situation that many people would probably be able to see in their own towns and lives.
I’m glad that Simon has chosen to write this topic into a YA book – it’s incredibly important, and far too often teenagers and young adults are terrified of the future as to not being able to afford living spaces and seeing their hometowns unrecognisable. It was definitely a good choice to bring this up in such a light-hearted book to show that life isn’t always candy and rainbows.
Final thought: A brilliant and thought-provoking summer holiday read! 5/5