What’s it all about?:
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.
What did I think?:
When Ella Patel from Quercus sent me a sampler of Finding Dorothy a month or so ago and asked me to report back what I thought and whether I would be excited to read the finished copy, I was all over it like a rash. Not only do I adore historical fiction and stories about strong, independent women but The Wizard Of Oz was (and probably still is) one of my favourite films and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it. The prospect of finding more out about the wife of the author who wrote The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Maud Gage Baum was too delicious to pass up and I was eager to report back to Ella that I was raring to go in reading and reviewing Finding Dorothy. A big thank you to her and to Quercus for the complimentary hardback in exchange for an honest review.
Elizabeth Letts, author of Finding Dorothy.
In essence, this novel was everything I would have hoped it would be. We follow our female protagonist Maud from a very young age as she learned how to become a woman, how to fight for the same level of education as men and how important it was for women to finally get the right to vote and start to make a real difference in the world. Her mother, Matilda, a staunch campaigner, public speaker and feminist has an inner strength and determination that shines through in her youngest daughter, Maud.
Maud goes away to study in a time where women were not encouraged to do so after some firm insistence from Matilda that she should make the most of the opportunity, and it’s fair to say that she struggles slightly. Unfortunately the expectations of society and her peers at the time regarding how a woman should behave weigh heavily on her, but in the end she makes the right decision for her own individual happiness, whilst not changing any of her personal beliefs. Enter L. Frank Baum and his Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.
Theatrical release poster for The Wizard Of Oz, released in 1939
You might be forgiven to think that it’s only when Maud meets Frank Baum that the story kicks into gear. For me, that was certainly not the case at all. I was fascinated by Maud’s early life, her suffragist mother, the clear differences between her and her older sister, Julia and how even though she was raised to be headstrong and unyielding (especially when it came to men), there was also a softness and gentleness to her nature that endeared me to her immediately.
I felt like I could connect with Maud and understand her as a person and I could certainly sympathise with her internal battles, particularly as a young woman about what or whom she really wanted to be in life. I adored her loyalty to her mother, her dogged determination to make Matilda proud and her worries that she would disappoint her if she made what might have been seen as the “wrong” choices. As it was, it only proved that Matilda had raised a young woman who was able to take charge of her own thoughts and feelings and make an informed decision to quiet the warring factions of her mind.
As well as Maud’s early life and her marriage to Frank, this novel also explores a present day thread, (which is still historical for the reader) but occurs when Maud is an older woman, visiting the set of The Wizard of Oz in the 1930’s to ensure the film makers are being faithful to the narrative of the original novel and to her husband’s memory. Personally, I can’t remember how many times I’ve read a historical novel told across dual timelines and preferred the historical to the contemporary thread. Not the case with Finding Dorothy – I thought BOTH were absolutely fantastic. It was particularly poignant to watch Maud meeting the characters, viewing the sets and worrying herself sick over a young and very vulnerable Judy Garland. Everything she wrote about I could picture so clearly from the film and it provided some fascinating, thought-provoking and quite startling insights.
This is definitely the sort of story you read, think deeply about and then feel spurred on to find out more and more from other sources. Finding Dorothy has only fuelled this hunger within myself, particularly when it comes to the life of Judy Garland and if anyone has any recommendations, I’d be so grateful to hear them! If you’re a fan of The Wizard Of Oz or just enjoy beautifully written and compelling historical fiction, I can’t hesitate but encourage you to pick up this novel. It’s well worth it and has been a wonderful, unforgettable reading experience.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
ELIZABETH LETTS is an award winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction. The Perfect Horse was the winner of the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-fiction and a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The Eighty-Dollar Champion was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is also the author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and an award-winning children’s book, The Butter Man. She lives in Southern California and Northern Michigan.
Find Elizabeth on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/568672.Elizabeth_Letts
or on her website at: http://www.elizabethletts.com/
or on Twitter at: @elizabethletts
Thank you so much once again to Ella Patel and Quercus Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Finding Dorothy is published on 4th April 2019 and will be available as a paperback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour/social media blast for some amazing reviews!
Link to Finding Dorothy on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40265841-finding-dorothy?ac=1&from_search=true