Hi everyone! Hope you’re doing okay! Sorry I’ve been a bit MIA recently – I’ve been in a wee bit of a reading slump and I also recently got into tarot and spent a chunk of the last week learning how to read the cards! Anyway, today I’m back with a review of a book that I have some mixed feelings about, so without any further ado, I’m going to jump right in!
Title: I Kissed Alice
Author: Anna Birch
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Synopsis: Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.
Hyper-gifted artist Rhodes has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts despite a secret bout of creator’s block, while transfer student Iliana tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.
They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a graphic novel. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other…a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?
I Kissed Alice follows Iliana and Rhodes. They both go to the same art school but Iliana got in thanks to her hard work and a scholarship, whereas Rhodes is there due to her passion for art and the school fees which seem like pocket change for her family. After Iliana loses her scholarship all thanks to Rhodes, the two become sworn enemies, and are also competing for the Capstone scholarship – a free ride to a prestigious art college. However, unbeknownst to both of them in real life, they are also co-writers, under the pseudonyms I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-In-Cheshire, of a successful online sapphic Alice in Wonderland in space comic, where they are head over heels with each other.
I’m not gonna lie, what really pulled me in with this book was the gorgeous cover! I am absolutely in love with the cover art and the artist also has a few spreads of the Alice comic strip throughout the book, which I adored! I’m not the biggest fan of hate to love (I’m really a sucker for the friends to lovers trope) but I decided to give this one a go because I’ve been in a huge sapphic contemporary kick recently and I’d seen so many positive reviews on Goodreads. However, I have some very mixed feelings about this book.
The writing style is pretty much what you expect from a contemporary novel – and it was just what I was needing in that moment. We have the traditional prose but we also see snippets of Rhodes and Iliana’s online messaging conversations, the comic strip sections and even some comments from fans of the comic strip. Overall I think it was a really fun and effective way of differentiating the two ‘personas’ or the two sides of how they felt for each other. On the other hand, as the book is from both Rhodes and Iliana’s points of view, at times I couldn’t differentiate between the two of them, and as far as I’ve seen on Goodreads, this seems to be a common critique of the book. Sometimes I’d start reading a chapter, thinking I was reading from Iliana’s point of view, when all along I’d been reading about Rhodes and her younger brother.
The plot is something else that drew me in – I love competitions in books, especially when it’s to do with something creative, like traditional art, films, and so on. And if I’m being honest, if I am going to read an almost enemies-to-lovers book, I much prefer rivals to lovers. The Capstone Award competition is the main plot throughout the whole book and I almost wished we had seen a little more of it. I loved Iliana’s idea of creating Alice in Wonderland themed tarot cards, and it was an especially nice surprise to read about just as I was starting to learn tarot! We also see Rhodes and Iliana’s online relationship change and evolve throughout the novel as a consequence of actions that were happening in real life, and again I wanted more. Of course I wanted more of the comic strip, but even the fact that they were in love online didn’t really shine through. It just read to me like two friends chatting, I don’t remember any flirting or anything, just talking about their day to day lives together (also it seemed a bit far fetched that they didn’t click it was each other for so long when it was extremely obvious!).
I briefly mentioned that I couldn’t tell the narrative voice of the two main characters apart, but other than that I actually really enjoyed the characters. We had a couple of fat characters as main characters (and who were proud of their size – we love to see it), and several sapphic characters too. Rhodes is facing a creative block throughout the book and is dealing with a mother who is trying to push her into her idea of ‘success’. We often see Rhodes at therapy and I like how much of a positive light it is shown in. Iliana loves tarot and is a very headstrong character. She is coming from a less well off background and often feels like she has to prove herself ten times more than others at the school. Due to something that happened in the past there is a real hatred between the two characters, and honestly I’m team Iliana. Rhodes did something to her which was really hurtful and just really shitty, and although she tried to make it right, Iliana was never made aware of that fact and Rhodes never apologised to her. As such, I felt that her anger was justified. But I never really understood why Rhodes hated Iliana, it just seemed so petty. In fact all the main characters in the book are extremely unlikeable – but it’s intentional and it works well. There’s so much jealousy and backstabbing going on, so if you like some drama in your books, you might love this!
Finally I’m just going to touch on a couple of themes that popped up in the book. One of the overarching themes is privilege. Rhodes comes from a very wealthy background, whereas Iliana and her best friend Sarah, are from less well off backgrounds. Privilege is brought up several times and Rhodes is often asked to check that privilege but whenever she does it never feels genuine. It’s like you shouldn’t hate me because I am more privileged than you and my life is easier in this sense because my mother is very pushy with me. It didn’t sit right with me throughout the whole book, as no one was saying she doesn’t struggle, just that she has economic privilege over others and she needs to acknowledge that. Also, I’ve mentioned this about previous books, but the characters just don’t label their sexuality. And as I’ve mentioned before, not everyone has to be comfortable with labels or label themselves, but it is extremely important to see characters in books being loud and proud about their identity, and the book was lacking that.
Overall, this book has some really great points, and I especially loved the last third of the book or so where it became more friends to lovers, but it also had some not so great parts. I think I’m going to have to give this one a re-read at some point to really benefit from the story, as I feel I lost a lot from it due to my reading slump. If you’re a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, love enemies-to-lovers tropes, or just want a fun new sapphic contemporary, I highly recommend this one!