The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.
Part of Series: A Blade So Black (Book #1)
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Racism, Underage drinking, Violence
Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. McKinney delivers an explosive, kick-ass debut, described by the author herself as, “What if Buffy fell down the rabbit hole instead of Alice?” This Alice is a black teen girl who is first seen fleeing a hospital after learning of her dad’s death. She then stumbles upon Wonderland resident Addison Hatter and witnesses him battling a Nightmare, an evil entity from the dream realm of Wonderland that, as a mortal, Alice isn’t supposed to be able to see. Her ability to see these dark, pernicious beings marks her as a human who can kill Nightmares instead of simply sending them back to Wonderland. As a result, Addison begins training Alice to battle Nightmare creatures. When Addison is poisoned, Alice must find an antidote by journeying into the heart and bowels of Wonderland—a place that is as dangerous as it is whimsical, as deadly as it is beautiful. McKinney breathes new life and fierce empowerment into Carroll’s classic. Her Wonderland is menacing, lush, and unique and populated by nuanced characters that are fleshed out and refreshingly authentic. This is the Alice in Wonderland retelling the world has always needed.
Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
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)
About the Author
L.L. McKinney is a writer, a poet, and an active member of the kidlit community. She’s an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, and the creator of the hashtag #WhatWoCWritersHear. She’s spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests. She’s also a gamer girl and an adamant Hei Hei stan. A Blade So Black is her debut novel.
Her website is www.llmckinney.com
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