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Book review: “Off with her heart”, by Amy Dale

I was asked to review the book “Off with her heart”, by Amy Dale. Below you can read my opinion about it.

You can buy the book at Amazon.com

“Off with her heart” revolves around a bookish young girl named Katy, who fails to receive any love from her parents and feels very different and misunderstood. By accident, she enters Wonderland, and becomes the Queen of Hearts.

With this angle, Dale has succeeded in taking a special approach to the books we know so well. Instead of the tired concept of ‘Alice returns to Wonderland once more’, she makes us see Wonderland through the eyes of the Queen of Hearts, who actually is not as bad as we all knew her to be.

Admittedly, this concept of ‘viewing the story through the eyes of another character’ is not new. It’s been done several times before, like “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” is the story of the not-really-that-wicked Witch of the West and how she came to be like that. In that story, the original main character (Dorothy) is just ‘passing by’.

In the same way, Dale also has Alice show up shortly in her story about the not-really-that-evil Queen of Hearts. Her actions and words are exactly like those in the Wonderland story, but now that we know the Queen’s history and thoughts, her words and actions are placed into a whole different context and we can understand why the Queen acted the way she did.

I have to admit: after opening the first pages of Amy Dale’s books “Off with her heart”, I had to push myself to continue reading it. This is not a story that starts right with the action. Instead, the first chapter is very descriptive, summing up the family history of the main character of the story, and the most important events in her life until the actual story begins.

The following chapters also did not succeed in capturing my attention. Although the story has started by then, it is still written rather matter-of-factly. It feels like a continuous summing up of events, which works for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, but not for this book, which focuses on the personality and emotions of the main character, and not the encounter of unfamiliar situations through the eyes of a child.

In the beginning, I found Katy and her parents to be rather stereotypical. I got the impression that this book wasn’t really that related to the original Alice in Wonderland story, but just a story ‘inspired by’ the book, and was aimed mainly at pre-pubescent girls who relate to Katy, because they also feel alone and fantasize about another world they actually belong to.

However, when I reached page 100 (about halfway through), it got a lot more interesting. Suddenly the connection with the Alice in Wonderland story became more apparent and I could start to see where it all was heading to. And from then on, I couldn’t put the book away anymore.

Although the explanation for the meeting between Alice and the Queen of Hearts during the trial of the Knave is a bit of a stretch, Dale overall did a good job in staying true to the original story and she has come up with some amusing explanations for the origin of amongst others the Mad Hatter and the reason why a raven is like a writing desk.

 

“Off with her heart” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” get connected more and more while the story proceeds, but “Off with her heart” never becomes funny and lighthearted. It actually is a rather sad story.

Thus you shouldn’t expect a book similar to Alice in Wonderland, but one with a completely different tone and feel, that deals with the culture and politics of Wonderland – a land that is a lot bigger and has much more to it than you would expect if you just read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and what Alice has found there”.

Although it takes some time to start things up, don’t give up reading, because in the end it will capture you and even bring some tears into your eyes (it did with me).

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