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Cathy Cassidy on Alice in Wonderland

Puffin author, library lover and lifelong Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fan Cathy Cassidy on how Alice’s story is still relevant to girls today 150 years on

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

When I first read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, aged nine, I thought it was a cool, funny fantasy. When I read it again five years on, it felt like a very different story; dark, nightmarish, surreal. Both times I identified strongly with Alice… her wide-eyed innocence, her curiosity, her struggle to make sense of a world that had suddenly turned upside-down.

Alice was my heroine back then, and she still is; in some ways, her story is every girl’s story of growing up, and when I was nine years old it sounded great. By the time I was fourteen, that tumble down the rabbit-hole into adolescence wasn’t looking quite so cool. For some of us, like Alice, those years are not quite the Wonderland they are flagged up to be… more of a stumbling, sometimes frightening journey in a land where nothing makes sense any more.

Sometimes, like Alice, I felt huge, lumbering, awkward; at other times, I shrank away to nothing, mouse-like, tiny. Often, I failed to understand the rules other people seemed to work out so effortlessly… at times it seemed like adolescence was one huge practical joked being played on me by invisible and faintly malevolent gods. Like Alice, I cried whole oceans of tears, and sometimes found myself drowning in them.

If I struggled with adolescence, what must it feel like for girls in 2015? You’d have to be blind not to notice the stresses facing young people now; tests, exams, assessments… and a constant pressure to look (and be) fashionable, beautiful, perfect.

The ‘looking glass’ holds such a silent tyranny for today’s teens that the impulse might not be so much to push through it to find Wonderland as to smash the whole thing to pieces. A teenager’s biggest fear is of being judged and found wanting, and in 2015 our society has a dark underbelly of sneering, judgmental gossip that cannot be healthy for vulnerable teens.  Let’s remember that behind the perfectly styled hair and cat’s-eye eyeliner, most teen girls are no more sophisticated than Alice; they are just girls, trying to make sense of the world around them and not always succeeding.

Alice, both the fictional version and the Victorian child who inspired her, was strong, determined, spirited… but one hundred and fifty years ago, when Lewis Carroll’s book was first published, not every girl could be a heroine. For most girls then, life’s confines were narrow and the opportunities to push the boundaries were few. These days, we have a whole lot more freedom, even if it does come at a price, and every girl can be a heroine. We’ve learned that rather than waiting to be rescued by a prince on a white charger, we have the power to change things ourselves, to speak out and be strong.

 

Looking Glass Girl

Cathy Cassidy

Alice nearly didn't go to the sleepover. Why would Savvy, queen of the school, invite someone like her?

Now Alice is lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

Lost in a wonderland of dreams and half-formed memories, she's surrounded by voices - the doctor, her worried friends and Luke - whose kisses the night of the fall took her by surprise . . .

When the accident happened her world vanished - can Alice ever find her way back?

A wonderful modern-day reimagining of Lewis Carroll's timeless classic, an unforgettable tale of friendship and love from one of the UK's best-loved authors.

Hear an audiobook extract

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