CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 9 . . . . November 3, 2017
It's a 'teacher's day', which means that, while their teachers have meetings, Abby and her besties, Frankie and Robin, have a day off school to hang out! It sounds great until Abby's mother tells her she isn't old enough to be left alone for a full day and, making things even worse, Abby and her friends will be spending the day at the house of Robin's other best friend, and Abby's arch enemy, Penny, making it the worst best day ever.
After being instructed by Penny to play crazy eights, Abby is positive Penny's cheating until Abby picks the queen of hearts, the most powerful card in the game. Before Abby can gloat, the card flutters away, and Frankie, who wants to beat Penny as much as Abby does, jumps into action, chasing the card across the yard and onto a golf course. Before she realizes it, Frankie's followed the card down an enormous hole that appears to be closing up. When Abby's pocket begins to buzz, she realizes she accidently left a piece of the magic mirror in her basement in her pocket. Abby has travelled through the mirror in her basement several times, usually with her little brother, but she has never entered a fairy tale outside of the mirror or with other people. She doesn't want more people knowing about the magic mirror and adventures it takes her and her brother into, but, as the hole shrinks and Frankie's nowhere to be seen, Abby doesn't see any other option: she and Robin, dragging a reluctant Penny along with them, plunge in!
Not until they land at the bottom of the hole do Robin and Penny believe Abby's story about visiting fairy tales through magic portals. Even Abby is feeling nervous, and they can't imagine how scared Frankie, who's very reserved and quiet, must be feeling. Abby and Penny need to put their squabbling on hold at least until they find Frankie!
It takes a few minutes, but together Abby, Robin, and Penny figure out they've fallen into "Alice in Wonderland". Abby is impressed when Penny tells her she's read the book and knows the story well; she's less impressed when she asks Penny about specific parts that might help them find Frankie faster, and the truth comes out: Penny hasn't read the whole book, and so the three of them are going to have to figure out the story themselves. They become increasingly worried about Frankie as they're sure she hasn't read the book either.
Despite knowing it's important that they work together to find Frankie, Abby and Penny can't stop fighting over which of them is Robin's real best friend. When they finally find Frankie, they're shocked: Frankie's having a blast and isn't her quiet, meek self at all. Frankie's surprised to find out she's the only one of the four who has read the whole book! Abby thought she was 'the reader' of the group, but apparently Frankie has her beat, and she knows how to get them through and out of the story. Abby doesn't know her best friend as well as she thought and comes to find she may have misjudged Penny, too.
After working through some bizarre puzzles and dealing with eccentric characters, Abby and Penny hit their breaking point: Penny blames Abby and Frankie for getting them into the situation they're in, and Abby blames Penny because, if she hadn't been so bossy and made them play cards outside, they wouldn't have fallen into the story. Robin and Frankie leave Abby and Penny to argue and work their issues out. They start to see that, despite their differences, they have at least one important thing in common: they both value their friendship with Robin, and that is enough to give each other another chance.
Sarah Mlynowski has given readers another great adventure with Whatever After: Abby in Wonderland. In previous "Whatever After" books, the friction and competitiveness between Abby and Penny has been a persistent theme, and, as in Wonderland, they discover what they perceive is not always the case. They come to find out they thought each other was stuck up and wanted Robin all to herself. In the upside-down world of Wonderland, they are eventually able to put aside what they thought was the case and find that, if they put aside their jealousy, they could become best friends, too.
In addition to encountering some of the quirkiest characters in the "Whatever After" series, readers will applaud Frankie's leadership skills and will also be reminded that, no matter how well you think you know someone, there is always more to learn. The moral to 'never judge a book by its cover' comes up several times in Abby in Wonderland, and, in each new situation, readers will agree it's better to have the full story, not just what you get from the dust jacket.
Unique to Abby in Wonderland, readers will be inspired to write their own stories through writing prompts and will enjoy the themed word search and 3 'Mad Lib'-style games included along with an interview hinting at the next fairy tale to appear in the "Whatever After" series.
While there's always a chance characters could grow stale and predictable in a series, Sarah Mlynowski's characters consistently show growth and development. Readers will be eager to read the next installment in the series, curious to see how new friendships, unexpected similarities, and newly discovered talents unfold.
A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and lives in Halifax, NS.