Title: Dorothy Must Die
Author: Danielle Paige
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Set in Kansas, Amy Gunn, is an outcast who gets transported during a freak tornado to Oz. But it isn’t the Oz that Amy’s seen in the movie. Nobody’s singing, the inhabitants are terrified and everyone is living under a new tyrannical leader: Dorothy. Aligning herself with the Order of the Wicked, Amy must take down Dorothy and her friends.
I enjoyed the story. I like how Paige lets us see Amy’s life; how miserable she is and her relationship with her depressed mother. There are enough obstacles to keep you reading and as well as going on a physical journey, Amy goes on an emotional one. I would like to point out that Dorothy had silver shoes in the book and not ruby heels. I know this is explained in the prequel novella but I, and I’m sure it will be the same for many readers, didn’t know about the prequel novella until I read the main novel. I also feel let down by the ending. I think most people will agree with this sentiment.
Layered with betrayals, buried in secrets, the story whisks you away to a very different Oz and demands your attention from the very first line:
“I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday – one day after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.”
I love the narrative voice. Amy comes across loud and clear, funny and feisty but more poignant than both of these are the vulnerable moments when her thoughts drift to her mother. There are times when she focuses on Nox and it removes you from the danger she’s in and the difficulty of what she’ll eventually have to do. Also, the petty jealousy with Melindra and the somewhat clichéd girl-hating-girl-for-no-reason element is a little stale.
New and classic characters feature side by side in Paige’s dystopian Oz. To the classic, Danielle shows a darker edge and builds back-stories around them, their relationships and their motivations. The new characters come across with strong personalities that rival the darker, well-established characters from Baum’s original.
Paige builds up Amy’s character for the first line. The “Salvation Amy” taunt is a nice touch. It’s not overused but it keeps it fresh in our minds who Amy Gunn is at all times. It also refreshes her tumultuous relationship with her mother. Her weaponizations of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion are both horrific and imaginative.
Some of my favourite moments are:
“It wasn’t hot and it wasn’t cold. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before – including the time when I was little and I put my finger in a lightbulb socket to see what would happen.”
“‘Ugh! It would literally hurt! He has knives for fingers’, Dorothy complained.” (Loved Dorothy!)
- Jellia: “‘Remember––it’s a thousand strokes. Not a thousand and one and not nine hundred and ninety-nine. Don’t lose count. Dorothy will know. She always does––we’ve lost more than one girl that way. If there’s one thing to say about Hannah, it’s that she certainly could count.’”
Quality of Writing:
The writing quality is set at a high standard though the cultural references to Star Wars and the like distract you from Oz. Assume that the reader will have the slightest knowledge of Oz and push forward with the darker aspects of the story and build on the new characters.
When Amy says that Dorothy’s lips were “shellacked in plasticky crimson”, it’s slightly confusing. I misread it as a typo and thought she meant shellac. Not sure if they have shellac nails in the US but I drew a comparison between nails and lips and found it jarring. I think saying “varnished” or “polished” would have ironed this out. Sometimes, Amy would almost spoon-feed the reader with descriptions, telling us what to think like when she describes what Dorothy is wearing but then tells us that she’s looks like a hooker. Give the reader some credit and let us work that out for ourselves.
This aside, there were some beautiful phrases:
“There was a pause I could drive a truck through.”
“Dorothy’s boobs were out to here, her legs up to there.”
“The Tin Woodman’s forehead crumpled like aluminium foil, then smoothed itself out again as he considered the idea.”
I like how Paige portrays Oz and draws it back to Amy’s knowledge of it. I felt that we maybe could have seen more of the world though. A large portion of the story takes place with the Order of the Wicked and this might have been an opportunity to either show or tell us more about Oz.
When you turn a utopic world into a dystopia by changing one character, a lot can wrong. The world must reflect the shift in power, the cast of characters change but the characters must show a range of qualities. The second challenge lies in that some of the original characters in Baum’s original were somewhat one-dimensional or rather, they had one motivation. The Scarecrow wanted a brain and to help Dorothy. Dorothy wanted to go home. The Wicked Witch of the West wanted Dorothy’s shoes. They all had one true desire. And while each character in Paige’s retelling has one true desire, they show a myriad of emotions and motives; a rich layering of the complexities of human nature. Paige uses the popularity and reader’s familiarity with Oz as a springboard to accelerate her story and push it into new, darker territory. The story piques the reader’s curiosity and forces us to keep reading in an attempt to find answers to the questions that are presented similar to Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed. The world is dark and the characters memorable like Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series. Both stories incorporate myths and more established stories – Kagawa’s, of the fey in (Sir Orfeo) and Angelini’s, of Helen of Troy – and use them as a base for their story but do not rely on that. Rather, they push the story further and Paige’s Dorothy Must Die is no different.
Books You May Also Like:
No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige – to get answers to some of your questions like, how did Dorothy become evil? What happened to her aunt and uncle?
The Iron Fey series by Julia Kagawa – for a story about fairy lore with a creative twist