A couple of months back I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. It’s classed as a Young Adult book, but I’ve never taken much notice of labels – people who do often miss out on gems. When I was a child I read adult books, and now I’m an adult I read kids book… don’t judge me, I’m not alone. Young Adult books vary, but they’re roughly aimed at teenagers.
It’s years since I read any of the Oz books (I’m talking decades here folks), but I can remember that when I did read them I was young and did find the whole thing very sinister. Come to think of it I find the film rather sinister too. Perhaps I just find the weird in things?
Anyway, back to the book.
The premise is…wait for it… a girl gets whisked away by a tornado and finds herself in a strange land called Oz. But this girl is called Amy Gumm (a nice nod to Judy Garland there) and Oz is now ruled by Dorothy, who has basically turned evil. The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion are her seconds (thirds?) in command and are also evil to the core. This is not the kind of Oz you want to turn up in.
I was a teensy bit sceptical when I first read the blurb:
‘I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero…’
‘A place where Good Witches can’t be trusted and Wicked Witches might just be the good guys.’
The book was a New York Times bestseller, but we all know how hype can expand the sales of bad books. I settled down with my ‘impress me’ face on and expected to be mildly amused.
The scene is set with Amy’s life in Kansas… a neglected child who lives in a trailer park with an alcoholic mother. Not as clichéd as it sounds, this book is actually quite sensitive to teenage life and I can see some kids really identifying with the girl. It didn’t take me long to get into this book, the characterisation is good and it’s easy to read.
But pretty soon the tornado whisks Amy away. This is when the scenery changes and everything goes quite dark. Don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers, but let’s just say it get dark very, very quickly. For a first novel this is a cracker of a book and Paige does not shy away from difficult subjects or situations. It’s not actually a horror novel as such, but it gets pretty damn close. From Glinda the Good Witch with her PermaSmile, to goth Munchkins and mutilated flying monkeys, this Oz is a far cry from the one you will remember. Dorothy is now evil and is sucking the magic from Oz, while terrifying its inhabitants or enslaving them.
I’m sure you could psychoanalyse the book with its portrayal of teenage abandonment, fierce independence, trust issues and fighting for what’s right even when you are not sure what is actually right in the first place, but that would take away from the fact it’s a really great story.
However… I would say that, for the younger range of the YA audience, this may be a bit disturbing. There’s not much bad language (and let’s face it, by the time you’re 12 you’ve pretty much heard it all unless you’ve been living in a very sheltered community), and there’s no sex, but there are violent, bloody scenes, and a quite nightmarish quality to the book. Just something to be aware of if you are thinking of buying it for a young teenager or someone of a nervous disposition.
I however, with my love of all things dark, was pleasantly surprised. I loved the book and it is the first book in a very long time that had me gasping ‘Noooooo’ as the book ended. The sequel, The Wicked Will Rise, is now available and I shall be buying it pretty damn quickly.
If you buy Dorothy Must Die, I recommend buying both books together.