Review: Dorothy Must Die

I’ve been a Wizard of Oz fan since I was a young child watching Judy Garland on a home-recorded VHS tape. I watched it enough times that I could still tell you where all the commercial breaks came into the story. So when I started reading YA again a couple years ago and found out about Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die, I had to pick it up.

About the book: Amy Gumm lives in a dorothymustdietrailer home with her pill-popping mother, who seems to have tired of Amy and most everything else. She’s bullied at school, friendless, and more than a little stuck in Dusty Acres. Enter: tornado. Of course, Amy’s heard the traditional story of Oz, but when she wakes up on the roof of her upside-down trailer and scampers out just before it falls into a bottomless pit, Oz is unrecognizable. A strange boy gets her started on her way, but he leaves her with more questions than answers. So does everyone else Amy meets, for that matter. Everything in Oz is different than what she imagined because Dorothy’s defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West and return trip to Kansas was only half the story–now Amy is learning that Dorothy came back and took over Oz. She turned ruthless, and took her famous friends with her. Now the Wicked of Oz are fighting to remove Dorothy from power, but even if their plans are for the good of Oz, it’s still murder they’re considering, and they’re still Wicked. In a land where everyone seems to be tied to villainy of some sort, who can Amy trust? She’ll have to decide, because even if she knew how to get home, she might not want to.

“If this was a fantasy, it was a strange one: this wasn’t the Oz I had read about or seen in the movie. It was as if someone had drained out some of the Technicolor and introduced some serious darkness.”

Best aspect: the intriguing plot. Dorothy Must Die is not one of those retellings that’s basically the same story as the original with a modern twist–it’s a whole new story of what comes after the famous tale of Oz. It is original content full of familiar faces, though no one turns out as expected. Major points for imagination.

“Wickedness is part of Oz. It’s part of the order of things. It’s always been the Good versus the Wicked. Magic can’t exist without Goodness. Goodness can’t exist without Wickedness. And Oz can’t exist without magic.”

Worst aspect: the over-simplified narration. First, before our main character Amy goes to Oz, she’s a bullied high schooler, neglected by the adults in her life. The opening scenes of this book feel so staged, so transparent as a set-up for Amy’s unhappy life in Kansas that they come across as ridiculous. What high school girl’s popularity is re-enforced by pregnancy? When does a principal suspend a student for fighting without asking for both sides of the story? What mother voices concern about a tornado and then leaves her child alone and unsafe in a trailer? So many of these details are obviously supposed to show the reader that Amy is alienated in her community, but they’re not presented well. The characters in the early pages of Dorothy Must Die seem to exist only for the sake of being cruel. Other characters seem to have no purpose at all.

“He looked at me like I was the dumbest person alive. ‘You have to stop asking those kinds of questions,’ he said. ‘You know exactly how we got out here.’ Of course I knew. It was the same as the answer he’d given before. ‘Magic,’ I said under my breath, without even really meaning to.”

But there’s more: the narration is also full of unnecessary questions and slow acquisition of information. Amy, our narrator, pieces things together excruciatingly carefully, showing every step of the simple journey from point A to point B. She’s not the only one though, who draws things out. Everyone is keeping secrets that make the narration more convoluted than necessary. This book could seriously benefit from a good culling of excess words. Here’s an example of how long it takes for characters to get to the point:

” ‘Some magic shoes would really come in handy right about now, huh?’ I said.

‘Seriously. Maybe…’ He stopped himself.

‘Maybe what?’

‘It’s nothing. It’s just–there might be one more person who…’

‘Who?’ I asked eagerly.

‘No,’ he said. ‘It would never…’

‘Who?’

He spoke with finality this time. ‘No. It won’t ever work.’

‘Please,’ I said. ‘Whatever you can do. Please just try.’

Pete nodded. ‘Okay,’ he said. “I’ll ask. But it’s a long shot. It’s the longest shot.’

Dorothy Must Die leaves little room for the reader to make assumptions or piece together clues. It comes across to me as the sort of narration one would find in a middle grade book where readers need more guidance, but there’s some profanity, and some remarks about pregnancy and torture and other more adult themes that make the book inappropriate (in my estimation, at least) for readers of that age range.

The upside: the narration does improve eventually. The incessant questions cease, but the narration is still a little bogged down with secrets and speculations instead of concrete details. The plot contains so many shocking twists and turns throughout, but the greatness of the plot is mired down in its disappointing execution. But at least by the end of this first volume we’re seeing the characters making their own choices for their own reasons, which is a step up from where this story starts.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. Although I didn’t like the way the story was told, I am still interested in the premise, and I already have the second book in the series on hand. I’m not sure at this point if I’ll buy or borrow the third and fourth books or quit early, but I will at least read book two. Eventually. This is the sort of series that feels like one story broken into episodes, rather than distinct stories, which means that there won’t be much of a conclusion to most of the plot threads until the end of the series. This is primarily why I want to read onward–for closure.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, first book (in chronological order): The Magician’s Nephew. If you’re looking for a magical story of children traveling to a troubled land, with less beating-around-the-bush in the narration, this series is a great choice for readers of all ages. In the first book, two children accidentally happen upon a gateway to alternate worlds and let a villain from one dying realm loose in another that’s just beginning.
  2. If you like retellings of familiar stories full of powerful villains and plenty of magic (not to mention a little romance), Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles fit the bill. Meyer’s books also feature a simple and drawn-out narration, but there’s plenty of action and emotion. In the first book, cyborg Cinder must escape her evil stepmother’s clutches to help the mysterious prince fight a deadly disease running rampant through the country and ensure her own (as well as all of humanity’s) survival.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling, the first book in an NA/adult fantasy trilogy. Newly crowned Queen Kelsea is thrust into her leadership role and learns just how much of the politics and personal family history her adoptive family have left out of her training. She’s got a giant target on her back and nowhere to hide–and maybe no one she can trust, even in her own kingdom.

P. S. If you haven’t checked it out yet, head over to my Choose My Next Read: Round 2 post to vote for a book you’d like to see me read and review in July! Votes count until Friday.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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