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Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Release Date: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Ballatine Books
Page Numbers: 368
This richly imagined novel 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.
“A breathtaking read that will transport you over the rainbow and into the heart of one of America’s most enduring fairy tales.”—Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece for the screen, seventy-seven-year-old Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to finagle her way onto the set. Nineteen years after Frank’s passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book—because she’s the only one left who knows its secrets.
But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of “Over the Rainbow,” Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story, from her youth as a suffragette’s daughter to her coming of age as one of the first women in the Ivy League, from her blossoming romance with Frank to the hardscrabble prairie years that inspired The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Judy reminds Maud of a young girl she cared for and tried to help in South Dakota, a dreamer who never got her happy ending. Now, with the young actress under pressure from the studio as well as her ambitious stage mother, Maud resolves to protect her—the way she tried so hard to protect the real Dorothy.
The author of two New York Times bestselling nonfiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, Elizabeth Letts is a master at discovering and researching a rich historical story and transforming it into a page-turner. Finding Dorothy is the result of Letts’s journey into the amazing lives of Frank and Maud Baum. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, Elizabeth Letts’s new book tells a story of love, loss, inspiration, and perseverance, set in America’s heartland.
As soon as I heard of this book coming out I was fascinated. I have been to The Oz Museum in Kansas where I learned a lot of behind the scenes information about the movie and a little bit of insight into the books and author, but I never knew anything about his wife Maud Baum. I loved learning about her effort as an elderly woman behind the scenes to ensure that the movie was true to her late husband’s vision, as well as her concern and interactions with Judy Garland to try to protect her from the difficult environment she faced. My heart really hurt for Judy throughout the book.
The time period of the movie filming was interspersed with flashbacks of Maud’s life as the daughter of a famous suffragette, her experiences as one of the earliest female college attendants, and her courtship and marriage with Frank. They certainly didn’t have an easy life, but it was wonderful to see the strength in their relationship and how they were able to endure trials together. I found it especially fascinating to learn about the inspiration for so many of the characters and aspects that Frank wrote into his famous book. A couple things the author took some creative license with, but most was based on fact and the story was very well researched.
I read the book in two days because I was totally fascinated and engrossed. I never felt like the plot lagged and found all the developments and revelations interesting. Maud was an intrepid woman who was ahead of her time, but also full of kindness and warmth. Frank’s struggle to balance his creative yearnings and dreaming personality with his practical duties was relatable and sympathetic.
I would highly recommend this for fans of the Oz books and/or the movie, those interested in early Hollywood history, or anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction full of interesting family dynamics.