The Other Alice

The Other Alice was written by Michelle Harrison and first published in 2016. It is a middle grade fantasy novel which focuses on a young boy’s attempt to save his sister when the characters from one of her stories come to life. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Midge knows that his sister can be a little odd but he has always loved her stories. Alice’s imagination seems to be endless and she believes that every story should have an ending, no matter how silly. However, Alice seems to be having trouble with her new novel. She’s foregoing sleep and food but can’t seem to find a way to make the story end.

At first, Midge feels like Alice is over reacting but then one morning she suddenly vanishes. After that, things start to get very strange. A talking cat shows up at the house and he meets someone who looks strikingly like his sister, only seems to be unable to speak. When Midge finds his sister’s notebook, he realises that the characters from her unfinished story have come to life and are now wandering the village with no idea that they are fictional.

However, some characters seem to be more aware than others. It’s not long before Midge encounters the sinister Dolly Weaver and realises that his sister has a particular talent for writing psychopaths. Dolly is desperately hunting for Alice’s book and Midge knows that she does not care who she hurts in order to get it. Knowing that he has to find it first, Midge befriends a few of Alice’s friendlier creations – mute Gypsy, roguish Piper and Tabitha the talking cat – but in doing so he finds himself in trouble. How will they react if they find out that they’re just characters in a story?

Before I begin, I should probably warn you that this story is pretty dark. Although it is aimed at middle grade readers, it’s not the happiest of reads and contains some pretty scary moments. These include a truly psychotic villain and characters with really bleak backstories, some of which never get their happy ending. If you like your children’s literature to be upbeat and positive, this is definitely not the novel for you.

The concept of The Other Alice was intriguing and more than a little disturbing when you think about it. It presents the story of a girl with a terrible curse that causes the characters that she writes about to come to life if she ever leaves a story unfinished. While this sounds like it might be fun, it leads to a horrifying existential dilemma as the characters in question are forced to accept the fact that they are not real. They were created on the whim of a teenage girl who gave them terrible memories, such as Romany curses and negligent parents, for her own amusement. This idea is rather twisted and is sure to get under the skin of anyone who enjoys writing. I now certainly live in constant fear of what would happen if any of my characters got hold of me.

I also really loved the message of the book. More than anything, it was a story about the power of stories. It explores the way that a writer sees the word and how their creative process can seem eccentric to some. I also explained why people write about things that they find disturbing as a way of processing their own feelings, rather than just writing about positive things all the time. Yet, most importantly, The Other Alice explored the different effects that stories can have on people.

Almost every character in the novel is either a writer or a lover of stories. From Dorothy Grimes – a murderess who writes to plan out her crimes – to the lonely Ramblebrook who goes to great lengths to collect people’s unfinished work. For each character, writing serves a specific purpose. While this can be for good or bad, it’s something deeply personal to them which just goes to show how powerful words can be. Even the characters in the novel who are unable to write – illiterate Piper and Tabitha – have their stories to tell. It’s a creative idea that does a fantastic job of showing why stories are important in a way that makes you really want to sit down and write!

However, The Other Alice is not perfect. While the concept is great, the plot was certainly lacking in something. For a short novel, it was incredibly slow burning and took a long time to feel as though the plot was moving forwards. By the time that I was two hundred and fifty pages in, it became clear that the last few chapters would have to move at breakneck speed to ensure that everything was wrapped up over the climax.

I also had a lot of mixed feelings towards the ending. While it was pretty easy to see where the story was heading, I loved the riddle that Midge was forced to solve. Seriously, I hate it when novels present a really easy puzzle that takes a character ages to solve. Tabitha’s riddle is not an easy one by any means. Even as an adult, this thing kept me up at night and I only figured it out slightly before Midge got the clue that pointed him in the right direction. This just shows how seriously Harrison takes her young readers, as she doesn’t feel the need to spoon feed them the easy answers.

However, the climax was still not a satisfying one. Everything was wrapped up too neatly and too cleanly. We don’t even really find out what happens to a lot of the characters and those that we do learn about are just clumsily exposited during the epilogue. I suppose that at least the novel does not leave anything hanging. This is certainly intended to stand alone as there is no real way that Midge and Alice’s story can continue.

The characters were also a little shallow. While Midge is a wonderful protagonist and a lot of Alice’s creations are quite colourful, there ultimately isn’t much to them. As they just stepped off the page of a half-written novel, they are noticeably lacking in depth. Dolly is by far the worst character in this regards as we learn nothing about her past and motivation beyond the fact that she is murderously insane. Similarly, Gypsy and Piper’s story doesn’t really go far enough. While we learn briefly about their past together and how Gypsy came to lose her voice, their future is ultimately left up to the reader to decide.

So, all in all, this was a bit of a mixed bag. The plot of The Other Alice is dark and creative, containing some really wonderful themes and concepts. Unfortunately, the book was let down by its lack of structure and some disappointingly underdeveloped characters. I was left disappointed on the whole but I still would recommend this story to middle grade readers who are looking for something a little darker.

The Other Alice can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A Pinch of Magic | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 55-58 | Arkham Reviews

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