Kate’s Review: “Take Your Medicine”

38492306Book: “Take Your Medicine” by Hannah Carmack

Publishing Info: NineStar Press, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an ARC from the author.

Book Description: Alice “Al” Liddell is from Echola, Alabama. She leads the life of a normal teen until the day she’s diagnosed with vasovagal syncope – a fainting disorder which causes her to lose consciousness whenever she feels emotions too strongly.

Her mother, the “Queen of Hearts,” is the best cardiothoracic surgeon this side of the Mason-Dixon Line and a bit of a local hero. Yet, even with all her skill she is unable to cure her daughter of her ailment, leading Al into the world of backwater witchcraft.

Along the way she meets a wacky cast of characters and learns to accept her new normal.

Take Your Medicine is a southern gothic retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Review: I want to extend a very special thanks to Hannah Carmack, who was kind enough to provide me with an ARC of this novella! Keep your eyes out for a guest post from Hannah that I will be posting next week!

So maybe you’re asking yourself ‘Fantasy? Isn’t that Serena’s wheelhouse?’ And yes, this is true, but I do enjoy a fantasy story every now and again! I especially like stories that make reference to “Alice in Wonderland”, as that is one of my childhood favorites. With its nonsense adventures and kooky characters, that book has had a place in my heart for a long, long time. So when Hannah Carmack asked if we would read her book “Take Your Medicine,” I kind of jumped all over it. It had been since I’d played “American McGee’s Alice” in high school that I’d encountered an adaptation of Alice that I’ve really, deeply enjoyed.

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Don’t EVER speak to me about this whole train wreck. (source)

So “Take Your Medicine” was a breath of fresh air for this Alice fiend. What I liked the most about it is that while it’s not a direct adaptation of the Alice story, it takes great influence from it and peppers homages throughout the narrative. Alice ‘Al’ Liddell is not a girl from the English countryside who falls into an alternate world of Wonderland; she is a teenager living in Alabama who has been dealing with vasovagal syncope her entire life. VVS causes her to have fainting spells in moments of stress or high emotion. The ‘Wonderland’ she encounters is near her rural home, and it involves some teenage witches named Rabbit and Kat, and her own mother, a surgeon known as the Queen of Hearts. What I loved the most about Rabbit and Kat is that while they are analogs for the White Rabbit and The Cheshire Cat, Carmack was very clever in her homages. It wasn’t like Rabbit was constantly checking her watch and freaking out about time, nor was Kat grinning like a fiend all day long. Instead the similarities were more based in subtleties, like Alice being drawn to Rabbit and attracted to her, and Kat being hard to read, motivation wise. And while I was worried that Al’s Mom, being the Queen of Hearts stand in, was going to be cruel and controlling, she was definitely more loving and understanding than I expected. Her strictness and control was born of out love for her daughter, and I thought that was a poignant choice. I loved looking for the other Wonderland characters within those that Al encounters throughout the novella.

The setting is just excellent. I love a good Southern Gothic novel, with sweeping and haunting vistas in backwoods and swamps in the American South. Moving an “Alice in Wonderland” adaptation from England to the American South works so well, because the landscapes and environments are dreamy and mysterious in their own right. I could totally imagine the characters walking through the backwoods, with the heat and the sounds of birds and insects permeating my imagination. I loved the descriptions, from Rabbit and Kat’s trailer to Al’s mother’s rose garden to a backwater dance party. They always felt very surreal and whimsical, and I was completely drawn into it, as I was in Wonderland so many years ago and so many times before.

Finally, as someone who is a big believer in the importance of diversity and representation in literature, especially juvenile and young adult literature, I was VERY pleased to see the diverse cast of characters in this book. Not only is Al a POC character who is living with a chronic illness, she is also exploring her own sexuality and her attraction to Rabbit. Carmack herself lives with an auto-immune disease, and so her story and the character of Al lends a voice to other teens who are living with chronic illnesses. Within the diverse books movement the Own Voices movement is super important, so I love that this book is out there removing stigma or confusion about what it can be like to live with a chronic illness.

“Take Your Medicine” was a highly enjoyable novella that did a spot on job of adapting “Alice in Wonderland”. I completely recommend that if you like the Alice stories you should go and get your hands on this novella.

Rating 8: A unique and sweet retelling of an old favorite. The fun characters and the diverse  cast made for a very enjoyable read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Take Your Medicine” is new and not on any relevant Goodreads lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Best Retellings of Alice in Wonderland”, and “Best Southern Gothic Novels for YA”.

Find “Take Your Medicine” at both NineStar Press and Amazon.com.

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