Alice By Heart

Written by Steven Sater
Review by Anna Bennett

The Blitz has reduced Alice Spencer’s London to rubble, forcing her and her ever-constant friend Alfred into the Underground for safety. Here amongst the cots and rigged-hammock camp of fellow shelters-seekers, Alice has only her treasured copy of Through the Looking Glass, her friend, and her memories to keep her occupied. Alfred, however, has been quarantined for tuberculosis, and on the ninth night of their encampment, he is not expected to survive the night. Alice by Heart is a heart-rending depiction of that night through Alice’s perspective, as her world and Wonderland blur into a derivative reality.

Based on the stage musical of the same title, Alice by Heart explores the disparate and desperate tumble of thoughts as a young girl experiences love, loss, uncertainty, growing up, and letting go. Separated from her family and losing her closest friend, Alice plunges into the safety of her own imagination, hoping against hope to “stay on this page.”

Alice’s confused scrabble dictates the format of the book, pulling readers through golden days and lobster quadrilles amongst the tinned tomatoes she subsists on in the Underground. Although difficult to keep up sometimes, the pacing and movement brought home her state of mind and proved an evocative emotional experience. Sater’s experience with health-induced isolation and the escape through literature calls to the reader’s own frantic desire to plunge into the printed page. Complete with photographs of WWII London and the Underground camps, Alice by Heart will have readers fall, fall, falling through the mind of a scared girl and a very late rabbit.