Desert Isle Keeper
As a child, I was utterly captivated by everything and anything related to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I dressed as Dorothy for Halloween, read all the Oz books, and watched the movie so often I practically had it memorized. If I could have found a way to fly off to Oz, I probably would have done that too. So, the fact that I love Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts with my whole heart should surprise no one. It is – literally – the perfect book for me.
When seventy-eight-year-old Maud learns that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the best-selling children’s book written by her late husband Frank is being made into a major motion picture, she is over the moon with happiness. She considers this to be a testament to America’s great love for Frank’s work, and she’s determined to see that the cast and crew do the book justice. To this end, she begins spending time on the set where she meets sixteen-year-old Judy Garland, the girl responsible for bringing the iconic character of Dorothy to life on the big screen.
It immediately becomes clear to Maud that life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Judy. Her mother is extremely controlling, and the producer and director of the film have very strict ideas about every facet of Judy’s life. They tell her what she can eat, who she can and cannot socialize with, and they even dictate the kind of roles she will play once The Wizard of Oz is finished. Maud feels an instant connection with Judy, a connection that prompts her to do everything she can to make sure Judy is treated with kindness and respect. No one, including Maud herself, understands the soul deep connection between these two very different women, but as the story unfolds, things begin to make sense to the reader.
Maud grew up as the youngest daughter of one of America’s leading suffragettes. Nothing was more important to Maud’s mother than women’s rights, and Maud knew from a very early age that she was expected to go to college and make something of herself. There didn’t seem to be any room in her plans for things like love and marriage. At first, Maud has no problem living up to her mother’s expectations, but when she meets and falls in love with L. Frank Baum, everything changes, and Maud must stand firm against her mother’s displeasure if she and Frank are ever to have a life together.
Marriage to Frank doesn’t turn out to be quite the fairy tale existence Maud expected. Frank loves being in the spotlight, and it’s obvious he’d love nothing more than to make a living as an actor. Unfortunately, the theater company he opens falls on hard times, and Frank is forced to become a traveling salesman. He struggles to be content with his new job, and Maud tries her hardest to be the kind and supportive wife she thinks Frank deserves.
Finding Dorothy is one of those rare gems capable of transporting me out of my everyday life and into a completely different time and place. The portions of the story that take place on the set of The Wizard of Oz were my favorites, but I was also struck by the deep and abiding love Frank and Maud shared. This is a beautiful love story filled with characters who practically sparkle with life, set in a period of history I simply couldn’t get enough of.
Maud is a fantastic heroine, and I loved watching her come into her own. At first, she’s under her mother’s control and I was a little worried that Frank would dominate her once they were married, but that didn’t end up being the case. Maud gave up a lot in order to be Frank’s wife, but I never got the impression she regretted her decision to marry him. She is strong and resilient, the kind of female role model today’s young women could learn a lot from. She was Frank’s life partner, his equal even though the customs of the time expected her to be content to live her life in the background.
If you love The Wizard of Oz, or if books about the early days of Hollywood are your catnip, Finding Dorothy is the book for you. It’s not mysterious and magical in the way that Oz is, but it’s a book that speaks to the all-consuming power of love in all its many forms, making this novel one I’m more than happy to recommend to readers everywhere.