ARC Review: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

 

findingdorothycoverOfficial Synopsis from Goodreads: A richly imagined novel that tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum’s intrepid wife, Maud–from the family’s hardscrabble days in South Dakota to the Hollywood film set where she first meets Judy Garland.

Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.

 

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1870s-1898 New York, Dakota Territory, and Chicago; also 1938-1939 Hollywood

***I received an eARC copy of Finding Dorothy from the publisher, Ballantine Books, via NetGalley***

*** this post contains affiliate links ***


 Review: A wonderful, fascinating read that would make an excellent book club choice! I loved this book!

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is historical fiction that transports the reader to the lonely plains of the Dakota Territory, and to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It takes us back to a time when suffragettes were trying to garner support for the cause, and a young girl was on the verge of stardom. While much of Finding Dorothy centers on the making of the movie The Wizard of Oz and Maud’s friendship with Judy Garland, the heart of the story was with the relationship between Maud and her husband, Frank, who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that The Wizard of Oz was based on.

I loved Maud and Frank. Maud, the daughter of the famous suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage, was quite the character! Strong willed and independent, with a big dose of gumption and heart, Maud was a great main character to read about. You root for her and feel for her as she goes through life’s adventures.

Maud’s mother, Matilda, was also a lot of fun to read. She had one focus, and that was women gaining the right to vote, and so there was a lot of focus here on women’s rights. Every once in awhile I’d feel that some of the statements made might’ve been too modern for the time period, but Matilda was on the forefront of the suffrage movement, so had a more modern mindset. She was a great character who really lit up the page when she was around!

Frank, Maud’s husband, was such a compelling character! He was magnetic and charming, while also being aggravating as he would become single-minded when he had an idea and would make some very irresponsible decisions causing turmoil. Throughout it all, you really get a sense of the love Maud and Frank had for each other, and how they were partners through life. I really loved their relationship and how each of their strengths complimented the other.

In the sections set during the making of The Wizard of Oz, we get a glimpse of the Hollywood sets and offices. These sections were full of information about the movie, from various mishaps on the set, to how Judy Garland was treated, and to the various changes the movie went through. I’m not a big Wizard of Oz fan, so went into this read being a bit apprehensive about how I’d like this, but these scenes fascinated me! There was a lot of info here, and while if you’re a big Wizard of Oz fan, you’ll probably already know all of these factoids and rumors, but much of the stuff mentioned here was new information to me.

While I liked the scenes set in Hollywood, where I thought the book really worked was with Maud and Frank’s story. Particularly when they live in the plains of Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, and Maud visits her sister Julia, up further north on an isolated farm. There are also some particularly powerful scenes set in Chicago, and I really loved how the author was able to weave the story of Oz in with the story of L. Frank Baum and Maud. You pretty much get the story behind the inspiration for all of the characters in Oz, from the witches (both good and bad), to the Tin Man, to the Scarecrow, even Toto. But most of all you get the inspiration behind Dorothy, and it was quite powerful and moving.

I really can’t say enough how much I loved this book. So far, it’s one of my favorite reads of the year, and this would make an excellent book club selection! There are so many things to discuss, and we’ve almost all seen The Wizard of Oz and either love it or hate it, so there are opinions to be had with this book! From the tough life on the plains, and what that meant for women and families, to the suffrage movement, to imagination in a world of grey, to love and life and family, this book was magic. I loved it!

Bottom Line: An excellent, truly magical read! I loved it!

 

LINKS ***the Amazon link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase***

Amazon
Goodreads
Author Website

Does this sound like a good read? Are you a fan of The Wizard of Oz? Have you ever read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Are you a fan of Judy Garland?

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13 thoughts on “ARC Review: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

  1. The description of this book, the modern part anyway, reminds me of the film about Alfred Hitchcock making Psycho. He couldn’t get anyone to support the project financially, so he and his wife remortgaged their house, and she was often around giving her opinion as he edited the film and navigated the folks who could claim the film indecent if it didn’t make the cut.

    I didn’t realize Baum would have been so old when the movie was made, and I wonder what he thought of it. Or was he dead and only his wife was alive?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He had already passed away, and his wife was still alive. She acted as a consultant of sorts on the set – she kind of forced her way on there. I haven’t actually read Baum’s book yet, but I was so surprised to read in this book how much of his original book was changed for the movie. It seems like Maud approved of the film as the spirit of Baum’s work was very much there.

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      1. My mom said she read the book when she was young and it scared the sh*t out of her! Apparently, it’s quite dark! She also got me to read the novel version of The Princess Bride, which is fantastic because 1) you get to learn more about the characters and where they come from, and 2) it’s written by the same guy who wrote the movie script.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh wow!! I didn’t get the impression from this read that the original Wizard was dark, but I also remember watching the second movie when I was kid and being terrified of it! I can’t remember what I thought was scary about it 🙂
          I’ve never read The Princess Bride! I love the movie, and I do have a copy of the book but haven’t gotten around to it yet 🙂 Someday!!

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