Review: The Byways by Mary Pascual

The Byways by Mary Pascual cover shows a large keyhole shaped opening with a golden cat walking past, its shadow filling the bottom of the opening.

The Byways
Mary Pascual
Published June 6, 2023

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About The Byways

Neurodivergent high school student CeeCee Harper has a temper, and a reputation for trouble. Angry at the rumors and afraid she’ll never fit in, she makes a wrong move—and lands in the Byways, a world of alleys, magic, and forgotten people . . . some that aren’t even human. And if she doesn’t escape quickly, CeeCee learns, she’ll be trapped for good.

Searching for a way out, she gets lost among monsters, drug pushers, the homeless, and political upheaval, and soon finds there are those who will stop at nothing to keep her from leaving. But the Byways pull people in for a reason. CeeCee must figure out why she got stuck in the first place—before her loved ones are put in danger and she loses them forever.

A dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland meets Neverwhere, this contemporary fantasy will enchant Neil Gaiman and Christina Henry fans.

The Byways on Goodreads

My Review

NEVERWHERE is probably my favorite book by Neil Gaiman, so I was really intrigued by the description of this book. I can see the comparison in some ways. THE BYWAYS takes place in a city that has a sort of dark, twisted magical underbelly that CeeCee stumbles into by mistake.

The writing took me a while to get used to. While the content is more mature and intense, the early chapters reminded me a lot more of a middle grade book. The way CeeCee describes her peers and her experiences at school made me think she was maybe 14 or 15, so I kept forgetting that she was supposed to be in high school. Though I guess it’s possible to be 15 in high school, so maybe that makes sense? As the story progressed, I think the tone shifted to more of a YA style of writing.

Some of the imagery in the magical area was pretty disturbing to me. At one point, CeeCee meets a super creepy guy who shows her a screen that she realizes is showing child p*rn and asks her to play a game with him. She’s disgusted and flees, but the other people around her kind of just shrug their shoulders about it and agree that yeah, that guy should probably be avoided. I could have done without that whole thing, honestly.

The whole story feels very much like a bad fever dream– which I suppose makes sense as a retelling of ALICE IN WONDERLAND? It’s definitely dark and twisted.

At the beginning and end of the story, the scenes focus a lot on CeeCee’s neurodivergent experience and what she does to navigate challenges. I think the middle of the story is less focused on that, though.


All in all, THE BYWAYS wasn’t a big hit for me. I really didn’t care for some of the creepy stuff, and the winding, slower pace of the plot made it tough for me to get through. If you like darker, fever-dream-type stories, THE BYWAYS could be just what you’re looking for, though.

The Byways on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 18 up.

CeeCee is white and neurodivergent. She experiences sensory and impulse issues.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
CeeCee meets a man she describes as very overweight who shows her a screen that she realizes displays child p*rn. She recoils and flees from him. Another man pursues her, and she wonders if he’s a drug dealer or human trafficker.

Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
CeeCee experiences some things that depart from reality: an alley that shrinks down around her, a woman with dirt spilling from her lips when she speaks, and a man who appears to be part slug.

Violent Content
Multiple men try to capture or coerce CeeCee into doing things or staying with them.

One character is described as overweight, and the more he says or does gross things, the larger and more overweight he appears to be. That felt pretty fatphobic to me.

Drug Content
CeeCee meets a man she assumes is homeless, and when he doesn’t appear to be making sense, she wonders if he’s mentally ill or addicted to drugs.

In one alley, mushrooms grow. CeeCee’s told that, basically, only the most desperate addicts end up there. She tastes a mushroom and experiences a kind of high from it.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE BYWAYS in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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