Month: July 2015

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Everyone knows “There’s no place like home” but what if Dorothy didn’t want to stay there?  What if she wanted—perhaps needed–to return to the land of Oz?

This is the scenario of Danielle Paige’s novel Dorothy Must Die.  Dorothy has returned to Oz (with her aunt, uncle, and Toto in tow) and things aren’t as rosy as they used to be.  As noted in the book, “People talk about the real Oz, but I don’t even know what they mean by that.  Oz has rarely stayed the same for long.  That’s the magic, of course.  Always changing.”

And change it has—the Munchkins are slaves, there is a group of wingless flying monkeys who cut their wings off so they can’t be under Dorothy’s control, and there are numerous pits in the landscape where magic has been mined.  All of the familiar characters are far more sinister–Dorothy, Glinda, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow are power-hungry evil doers who are, in fact, quite wicked:  Dorothy wants all of Oz’s magic for herself, the Tin Man pines for Dorothy and will stop at nothing to protect her, the Lion is a savage beast who eats his enemies, and the Scarecrow is conducting a wide variety of experiments on the living in his laboratory.

Is there any way to stop this madness?  Yes, and the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked (including Glamora, Glinda’s twin sister) thinks that Oz’s newest visitor–Amy Gumm (“Salvation Amy” from Flat Hills, Kansas)–can help them stop Dorothy.  Amy was also caught in a tornado that took her to the land of Oz, and as she learns about Oz, she also trains to help get it back to its rightful ruler Ozma.   Amy is starting to realize that being wicked is more complicated than it initially seems.

This darkly twisted tale is far more sinister than its predecessor.  The bleakness counteracts with the humor in the novel.  Dorothy’s extreme glittery and over-the-top glamour is fueled by the red shoes that seemingly propel her to possess more power.  After all, “Those who have sacrificed always have the most to lose.”

Readers will be intrigued by the twists and turns provided by the plot, and the blend of fantasy and horror will provide readers with the opportunity to marvel at the wickedness of it all.

Then (Once #2) by Morris Gleitzman

Dedication:  “For all the children who have to hide”

There once was a story about the same young Jewish boy named Felix who created stories wherever he went.  The stories once helped him in the past, but would they do so again now that he and Zelda have escaped from the Nazis?

Then his story began again:

   We pause at the edge of the trees and squint down into the next valley. My glasses are smudged. I take them off and polish them on my shirt.
Zelda gives a terrified squeak, and grabs me and points.
I put my glasses back on and peer down at what she’s seen.
Zelda isn’t pointing at a distant house belonging to a kind cook, because there aren’t any houses. She’s pointing at something much closer.
A big hole in the hillside. A sort of pit, with piles of freshly dug earth next to it. Lying in the hole, tangled up together, are children. Lots of them. All different ages. Some older than me, some even younger than Zelda.
‘What are those children doing?’ says Zelda in a worried voice.
‘I don’t know,’ I say.
I’m feeling worried too.
They look like Jewish children. I can tell because they’re all wearing white armbands with a blue blob that I’m pretty sure is a Jewish star.
Trembling, I give my glasses another clean.
‘This wasn’t in your story,’ whispers Zelda.
She’s right, it wasn’t.
The children aren’t moving.
They’re dead.
That’s the bad thing with stories. Sometimes they don’t come true and sometimes what happens instead is even worse than you can imagine.
I try to stop Zelda seeing the blood.
Too late.
She’s staring, mouth open, eyes wide.
I go to put my hand over her mouth in case she makes a noise and the killers are still around.
Too late.
She starts sobbing loudly.
Directly below us on the hillside, several Nazi soldiers jump to their feet in the long grass. They glare up the hill towards us. They throw away their cigarettes and shout at us.
I know I should get Zelda back into the undergrowth, out of sight, but I can’t move.
My legs are in shock.
The Nazi soldiers pick up their machine guns.

Felix and Zelda encounter many harrowing events (like this) each day as they try to find safety in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942.  They meet gruff Genia and learn some sweet stories of her own as she welcomes them into her home.  Every light moment of the day, however, is overshadowed by the constant threat of discovery and possible execution.

As you can see, Gleitzman’s story is simple and straightforward; in fact, it is sometimes rattling in its simplicity.  The complexity arises from the realizations in the presented realities, and your heart will run its gamut of emotions as one line slips into the next.  The belief that “A little hope goes a long way” will be held onto even though it seems as if the sun is never going to rise.

When I finished the book, I sat in awe for a few minutes contemplating all that Gleitzman had accomplished in this tiny book that packs a harrowing punch.  It is clear:  he is magnificent writer, and this is one hell of a series.

Information on the first book in the series, Once:

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews and Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill

Two books, two families, and two individuals with different paths to gender reassignment–all of these are included in these books whose authors were once in a serious romantic relationship.  The two books also happen to have the same publication date.  In the memoirs Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal, Arin Andrews and Katie Rain Hill detail their life challenges as they strive to become their true gender identities.  Arin’s (male-to-female) and Katie’s (male-to-female) mirror one another’s, although Katie’s extends to her college years.  One of the most striking aspects of the book is when Arin notes how he had always felt like a toy that needed to be put together when he was growing up.  Andrews took steps to make that happen, and he is now living a fulfilling life that matches his gender identity.  This thoughtful recollection details Andrews’s early childhood through teenage years, including moments about being called a tomboy to struggling to tell his mother about his confusion to the experience of falling in love for the first time.  Katie’s recollection includes a distant father, being bullied in school, and a generous donor who pays for her gender reassignment surgery.  Both stories merge when the two meet at a youth support group.   The honest reflections in both books offer readers the chance to experience their transitions to becoming their true selves…one which all of us we had a manual for too.

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