Dorothy Must Die: Caught me in first three pages. This is what YA should be: imaginative, independent, relevant, angry, thoughtful, hopeful.
— Biblivoracious (@Biblivoracious) July 30, 2014
It was an accident. I didn't mean to fall in love with Amy in the first three paragraphs, and be all in by page three. When I sat down in the parking lot, waiting for a meeting to let out, I didn't realize that I'd brought with me what needed to be a one-sitting book. Had I not needed to drive home halfway through, it would have been.
I'm not the biggest Wizard of Oz fan. Sure, I liked it. Yes, I even watched Return to Oz - don't. It's a terrible movie. Yes, I've read Wicked, Son of a Witch etc, and yes, I've seen Wicked, but.... not my fandom, not my flying monkeys. So, when my YA librarian slipped this to me with a knowing "you'll like it," I wasn't sure I believed her. This is the same woman who thought I'd like the disappointment that was A Discovery of Witches (though I admit it started strong and that was the only time she ever steered me wrong).
I bring up A Discovery of Witches because it's relevant here, and not just because Dorothy Must Die is about witches, which, of course it is kind of is. It's rather difficult to extract witches from Oz and still have a solid story. But A Discovery of Witches, in case you've read it (and yes, I'm comparing "grown up books" to "YA") does this thing that I hate, and it bears bringing up, because about a fifth of the way in, I was pretty sure Dorothy Must Die was going to do it too. In A Discovery of Witches, the first half of the book is a wonderfully detailed story about a brilliant researcher with a magical family, who wants to succeed on her own and goes to great lengths to survive apart from the world of witchcraft, vampires, and all the other creatures one doesn't really believe in, but suddenly finds herself being pulled back into that world. The first half is great world and character building. Then the scenery changes, she goes to France, and becomes a weak, simpering, bodice ripper damsel. The descent into a tawdry romance novel was such a disappointment. For many, the third location and shift in genre toward the end made up for that, but for me, it was hard to bounce back.
Well, when Amy (spoiler alert) ends up in Oz, (are you that surprised? I'm pretty sure that's on the cover, so I guess it's not really a spoiler) and is met by the most painfully beautiful boy she's ever met with these magically green eyes, my heart fell. It was scene change genre change all over again, but I loved her character enough to stick with it, and I'm glad I did. Much to my delight, this did not signal the usual disintegration into a predictable YA romance. Before anyone argues that there's nothing wrong with a romance, no, there isn't anything wrong with a romance, and I kind of hope that this series sees a little more of it over the next few books, but what I absolutely adore about this book is that it's really not about Amy's relationship with some boy, it's about her relationship with herself and her family.
Although set against the backdrop of a dystopian Oz, Dorothy Must Die is really about Amy's personal and ethical journey of self discovery, and any book that starts with the main character telling the reader exactly how long she's known she was trash- that means a lot. This is a story about a girl who makes hard choices in difficult positions, who learns a lot about herself, and slowly overcomes the labels people have heaped on her as well as the ones she's allowed to stick. It's a story about a girl being asked to liberate a people who maybe, just maybe is going to liberate herself instead.
I like it.