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Reviewed by Marta Tandori for Readers' Favorite
Sixteen-year-old Ben Howard is smart as a whip and a swim champ to boot and would make any parent proud. However, all is not as it seems in the Howard household. Ben’s father is an abusive drunk and, one fateful night, life as Ben knows it comes to screeching halt when he and his drunk father are involved in a tragic car accident that leaves his father dead – and only Ben knows what really happened. Reeling from being dumped by his girlfriend, Wendy, and his father’s violent death, Ben slashes his wrists but his older brother, a cop, finds him and saves his life. In Ben’s mind, his life isn’t one that’s worth living anymore and he falls into a deep depression to the point where his mother and brother, Gavin, check him into a sanitarium called White Waves. Shortly after arriving, and in the midst of utter despair, Ben falls into a coma and enters a parallel universe which he calls “Grey World” due to its lack of color. Grey World is a jumble of various famous landmarks from around the world and it’s during Ben’s exploration of his surreal surroundings that he meets Alice.
As Ben and Alice explore Grey World together, he slowly learns bits and pieces of information about Alice and becomes smitten with her. Just when things begin to look up for Ben, he’s pulled from the Grey World back into the real one where he learns that he’s still at White Waves and that he’s been in a coma for the last six months. Ben scours the Internet, hoping to find something on Grey World and finally finds a book written by Mary, an old woman with MS who had landed in a coma some years back which she vividly remembered. Her descriptions of Coma World are very similar to that of Ben’s Grey World and he soon contacts her, eager to go back to Grey World to get Alice.
Crazy for Alice by Alex Dunn is an angst-ridden YA novel that deals with some heavy subject matter. It’s also one of the best-written novels – in any genre – that I’ve read in quite some time. Aptly titled, the story demands, and extracts, every last ounce of emotion from its readers and simply put, the story is crazy good. Without a doubt, Crazy for Alice is depressing. However, the book is also thought-provoking as it has the courage to explore that no man’s land between life and death that few of us have ever experienced. The author doesn’t force us to buy into this alternate world he writes about, but merely puts it out there for our consideration. Dunn’s prose is casual and his portrayal of Ben and his so-called mental deterioration as he becomes more obsessed with finding Alice is extremely well done. We cannot help but sympathize with Ben’s plight and his growing desperation to find Alice, but at the same time, it’s hard not to feel for his family and their utter helplessness and despair as they watch Ben’s mental stability erode before their eyes. An excellent book from start to finish and one that fans of John Green should definitely read.