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  • Mandy McHugh

Wonderland, Zoje Stage: A Review

Baby Teeth is one of the first books I picked up after I joined the horror and #writingcommunity on Twitter, and I've been a big fan of Stage since. So when I saw Wonderland available on NetGalley, I immediately requested it and was thrilled to be approved. I mean, look at that cover. Striking. I couldn't wait to dive in. After retiring from a lifelong ballet career, Orla and her family move to a remote house in the Adirondacks so her husband, Shaw, can pursue his artistic ambitions and their children, Eleanor Queen and Tycho, can experience the rustic upbringing they've never had. But the house and land are far from what they imagined, and when they discover that something is lurking in the woods, they have to confront their fears head on.

Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There is a lot going on in spite of the quiet, introspective nature of the MC: relationship issues, motherhood issues, adjusting to a new lifestyle, difficult life transitions, childhood traumas, not to mention supernatural forces, a possibly malevolent being, and a house built in an area used for tuberculosis cure cottages. Orla is an interesting character, and in her, I saw a lot of myself: balancing being a good mother and needing to find fulfillment in something other than motherhood, supporting her husband and questioning the depth of his dedication, and perhaps most of all, wariness of nature--this one, I feel, is more prevalent as the weather is getting nicer here, and I have to face my fear of bugs in order to play with my kids outside. I live in upstate NY and I'm no stranger to the ADKs, and Stage did an excellent job creating the eerie unbalance of moving from the city to the wilderness where the closest pizza shop is half an hour away. I also chuckled at Orla's predicament on a pandemic level, as she adjusts to only being with her family for days on end, but such is life in quarantine. You take enjoyment where you can get it lol. Without giving too much away, this book is quiet yet powerful and deeply unnerving. The silence itself becomes a character, as does nature, the house, and your own judgment of the situation. You are forced into the story, questioning Orla's choices, but at the same time, swimming in ambiguity of whether you would act differently if put in her shoes. As a parent, we think we listen to our children, but our engagement comes from a place where we think we know better. We're adults with complete cognitive abilities and a bigger frame of reference, so of course we do, but in Wonderland, none of that matters. There are higher powers, intangible thought processes, and a Whitman-esque mindset where one person contains multitudes. I will say that if you're expecting a high-octane, edge-of-your-seat scarefest, this might not be the book for you. Reading this felt a little like watching The VVitch or Midsommar, where everything is deeply unsettling but you can't put your finger on why--until you can. There are a lot of unexplained answers and things happen because they do and can and you might not get that hard-locked closure (a fact I loved). Dozens of tiny horrific explosions, but their disasters are emotional wreckage and reflection instead of killer carnage. I loved Stage's exploration of mental fortitude and mother/child relationships. Overall, Wonderland is an atmospheric, artistic nightmare you won't want to miss. Big thanks to Mulholland Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

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