Book Review: Dorothy Must Die

dorothy must die

Paige, Danielle. Dorothy Must Die. New York, United States: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2014. Print.

I should preface this post by admitting that I have always been a little freaked out by The Wizard of Oz.

Maybe it’s Judy Garland’s syrupy sweet portrayal of Dorothy Gale, or maybe it’s the movie’s transition from black and white to neon technicolor—either way, the movie has never endeared itself to me as it has many others who have declared it a cinematic masterpiece. Perhaps that’s what drew me to Dorothy Must Die: the idea of Oz as a sinister, corrupt wonderland didn’t feel like that much of a stretch. Plus, the book has always been in my peripheral vision, a frequent recommendation by Amazon and Goodreads alike. With the recent release of the final book in the series, The End of Oz, I decided now was as good a time as any to jump into the first installment.

Amy Gumm is a tough, no-nonsense high school student from Kansas. She’s friendless (some of her cruel classmates christen her “Salvation Amy”), and struggles to care for her drug addicted and emotionally absent mother following her father’s abandonment. After a particularly dreadful day at school, Amy is alone in her trailer with only her mother’s pet rat for company. A tornado scoops up the trailer and deposits it in—where else?—Oz.

This Oz, however, is not the one that Amy is familiar with. Here, Dorothy is a tyrannical despot. The Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Woodman are not lovable companions but murderous henchmen. The landscape of Oz is drained of color as Dorothy leeches magic from the ground. Amy soon learns that “good” and “wicked” are relative terms when she is bound to a group of wicked witches who are determined to kill Dorothy and restore Oz to its former splendor. Because Amy—like Dorothy—is an outsider, the witches believe that she can assassinate their gingham-checked ruler.

Disguised as a maid, Amy infiltrates Dorothy’s home: The Emerald Palace. There, she witnesses Dorothy’s cruelty and barbarism firsthand. Her objective is clear—she must kill Dorothy. But Dorothy is protected by both her loyal servants and an abundance of magic. How, then, will Amy carry out her mission? Will she know when the time is right? Who can she trust?

This is a dark novel, and Paige’s expectation-shattering descriptions were the highlights of my read. Dorothy is not the demure heroine we’re familiar with but a cleavage-baring lush. The Scarecrow is neither bumbling nor lovable and is instead a mad scientist with a fondness for instruments of torture. The novel is chalked full of these types of twisted surprises, plus crisp, detailed imagery. The fantastical world of Oz and the decadence of Dorothy’s Emerald Palace were painted clearly for the reader.

It’s funny, then, that the parts of the novel I found most unbelievable occurred before Amy even landed in Oz. Madison Pendleton, a pregnant teen who mercilessly bullies Amy, felt so false and over-the-top that I almost stopped reading after her first few lines of dialogue. And, while drug addiction is a sad reality, Amy’s mother sometimes seems unnecessarily negligent. As the storm rages and the tornado approaches, for example, Amy’s mother is more worried about meeting a friend at a bar than her own safety and that of her daughter.

Even so, I would recommend this book to my students. It’s a great example of a twisted fairy tale, and it presents some interesting questions about stereotypes and archetypes: is it possible for a character to be wholly good or evil? Can power corrupt even the best of us? What things are worth doing even at the threat of death or bodily harm? I’m definitely anxious to read more of this series—it certainly seems to be worthy of its popularity and critical acclaim.