Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book 57: Dorothy Must Die

I feel like in some ways I missed out or just didn't care for some of the defining childhood movies that seem to capture people's imaginations.  Alice in Wonderland scared me, and while I assume I must have seen The Wizard of Oz as a kid, it didn't leave much of an impression on me.  Four years ago, a friend of mine had a bunch of us over to watch it the night before we were all planning on seeing Wicked in Richmond, and I was surprised by just how corny it seemed.  Even for a kid's movie, it didn't seem scary or dark at all.  Despite this, I have been drawn to re-imaginings of these worlds - maybe hoping that someone else's fascination with the topics would help me appreciate them more.  While my recent venture into a Alice in Wonderland spin off was a bit of a mixed bag (great world building, lack luster heroine, horrible love interest), Dorothy Must Die was mostly a success.  Yes, there is the automatic romance that seems to come with YA, but it wasn't a triangle, and never completely took center stage.  For the most part, this story remains centered on the protagonist, and while she occasionally makes mistakes and asks dumb questions, she mostly tries her best and attempts to do the right thing.

Amy Gumm lives in a trailer park with her mom in Kansas.  After her father left them and her mom was in an accident, her mom became a drug addict, and a rather neglectful parent.  As a result, Amy finds herself alone in their trailer except for her mom's pet rat Star in the midst of tornado that rips up the trailer and takes Amy straight to Oz.  Once there, there is nothing for Amy to do but follow the Yellow Brick Road but she quickly realizes that this is nothing like the beloved movie.  The landscape seems darker, deserted and the one person she does see barely wants to interact with her.  It turns out that Dorothy came back because Kansas just wasn't that exciting anymore after being a hero in Oz.  She has become obsessed with magic, and taken over the government.

While I haven't read the Oz novels, Dorothy Must Die draws from both the film and the novels since Ozma is mentioned several times as the rightful ruler (I'd never even heard of Ozma until I saw a review of the James Franco Oz film critiquing the fact that while these novels were rather feminist novels, the movies were suddenly making the guy the main focus).  Amy becomes drawn into a plot with the Wicked, a coalition of witches dedicated to fighting Dorothy, though Amy wisely doesn't trust anyone.  She realizes there is much that she does not know, both about Oz's past and what Dorothy is doing.  Still, she can't exactly argue with the fact that Dorothy is evil, even if she has the feeling that there is much more going than she realizes.

I was quickly drawn into the story, and had a lot of fun reading it, though I have two complaints.  One is not actually about the novel but the book jacket.  The back has a list of tasks except that these things aren't even mentioned as necessary until the last two or three pages of the novel.  As a result, I kept waiting for someone to bring up those things rather than focusing purely on Dorothy's assassination.  It's just a minor complaint, and it's not even really a spoiler but it is a distraction.  My other issue was with the portrayal of Dorothy.  I thought the idea of Dorothy coming back as evil was fascinating, especially since her evil is disguised behind this guise of fake sweetness.  However, the one thing that did bug me about Dorothy's portrayal is the fact that she is portrayed as a bit of vamp.  I just would have enjoyed the portrayal of evil Dorothy more if it hadn't been so focused on her being a spoiled brat who dressed in way too revealing clothes.  Basically, why does slutty/trashy have to be evil?  Because in this case, there is definitely negative judgment involved in Dorothy's choice of style.  It's not that revealing or sexy clothes bother me but the fact that they are described in negative ways, making Dorothy appear vain and petty rather than a powerful and evil woman who managed to take over a whole kingdom.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how this series progresses.   However, I wonder if I might need to read the original kids books because I'm not sure how many of the witches and other characters were created by Paige, and how many are adaptations of characters already familiar to those that know Oz.  Considering that I've been thinking I might need to read them since I saw all the discussions of the feminism in the original series and the character of Ozma, it really might be time to do that regardless.

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