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Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Back when I was about twelve, I read the entire Oz series. Very few people know there are any additional books beyond The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but they are delightful. 

Here, we get the backstory (fictionalized). In two timeframes, we have the filming of the movie, with the imperious Mrs. Frank Baum showing up at the studio to make sure the film of her husband's book is accurate, and also the story of Maud and Frank meeting, falling in love, and how he came to write the book. 

In the more modern part of the story, she becomes very protective of Judy Garland, who seems like a sweet bright light, but you can already see the cracks forming. Knowing her inevitable tragic ending (not in this book but a couple of decades later), you catch yourself wishing that Maud could get rid of the skeezy misogynists on set and shake some sense into her mother who thinks anything--including Judy's safety and sexuality--is worth sacrificing for fame.

In the older version, you find an awkward and somewhat rebellious girl whose mother is focused on women's right to vote and feminism, to be the player in Maud's life that she would have preferred. Maud ends up being a groundbreaker at her mother's behest in attending college (at Cornell no less!) but then her vaunted independence that allowed her to go into that fraught situation (very few girls, lots of rules for them, spoken and unspoken) is the same independence that annoys her mother when Maud is determined to quit school and to run off with Frank. 

Figuring out who in the book inspired Dorothy and Oz (or Ahs it is first appears) are fun runners throughout, and I really enjoyed this. It was a great window into an era I know very little about, and learning at least some of the backstory behind one of America's greatest novels (It's mentioned in this book that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is perhaps America's first fairy tale, and I think that's true), was just lovely. This book doesn't go where you expect, but it tells the story that needs to be told.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore.

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