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...
WARNING: This book is full of cute smoosh and adorably awkward boys. If that's your thing, you've hit the jackpot (also: hmu, you've obviously got excellent reading taste and I'm always in need of more sickeningly sweet gay romance stories).
Alex in Wonderland is the perfect summer YA read: it's got a slow-burn romance (the best kind of romance - disagree? fight me), a hopelessly awkward protagonist, a lovably diverse and three-dimensional supporting cast, a compelling mystery, and bucket-loads of comedy.
Having trudged my way through my last book and finding myself in a bit of a reading slump, Alex in Wonderland came at just the right time. For me, reading this book was like eating a box of expensive chocolates (you know the ones where they use words like "oozing" and "decadent" and "sensuous"): you tell yourself it's a treat and you're just going to have one or two and make them last. And then next thing you know you've scoffed the whole box and you're ugly crying because why are you such a mess, like seriously? That was me with this book: I wanted to savour it and take my time but I couldn't help myself. One more chapter turned into five and the next thing I knew I'd made it to the acknowledgments. Oops.
Now the way I determine whether a book is good is if it embarrasses me in public (like the time I cried on the bus reading Onjali Q. Rauf's The Boy At the Back of the Class). Alex in Wonderland passed the test (yay for Simon James Green, boo for me). I read most of this book in my bookshop's café during my lunch breaks and every time (and I mean EVERY. GOD. DAMN. TIME.) I found myself laughing out loud at some ridiculous scene. Let me tell you, I got a lot of strange looks from customers. I'm also pretty sure that an elderly couple moved to a different table just so they could get away from me. Great. But the book genuinely is that funny. And what's so great about the humour is that it is British humour. So much of the LGBTQ+ YA I read is published in America, and I love those books with all my heart, but there's something distinctive about British humour that Americans just don't get and it was so refreshing to find that in Alex in Wonderland.
So anyway, a random assortment of things I liked about Alex in Wonderland:
Homophobia - there's none of it! I get that homophobia exists but it's nice to read an LGBTQ+ book where abuse and violence isn't the focus and where characters can live their best gay lives authentically without fear of persecution (yaaaas!)
Representation - not every character is white (hooray!) and "G" isn't the only letter in LGBTQ+ getting repped in this book. (As a side note: why is it so hard to find LGBTQ+ books with multiple queer characters? What is that about?!)
Mystery - a huge part of this book centres on the mystery of who is trying to sabotage the Wonderland arcade. The Scooby-Doo-esque mystery was great fun and I genuinely didn't predict the outcome (THAT END SCENE WAS PERFECT!). I can totally just imagine Alex being like, "Okay gang, let's split up and look for clues! Ben you're with me… 😏".
I would love to see a sequel for this book. I hope you're listening Simon! I need to know what happens next and I'd love to see it from Ben's perspective. Ben is one of my favourite characters and it would be great to see how he handles *things* and comes to terms with *stuff* (being vague and mysterious because of spoilers and all) so a book from his viewpoint would be amazing. I'd also love to see this book adapted. It would make the perfect Netflix series and with so many YA contemporaries getting picked up for television, I think Alex would do wonderfully.
So to summarise, this book is pretty darn great. If you're looking for a good summer read, you absolutely need to pick it up. You'll definitely not regret it. Though you may become a little bit too emotionally attached to two fictional boys. But hey, you win some you lose some.