I haven’t read an inspirational in years, mostly because the only inspirational I had read was drearily conservative and written in such a cheesy and sentimental way that it put me off the subgenre altogether. So it was with some trepidation I approached Ruby’s Slippers by Leanna Ellis, which is both an inspirational and a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, a favorite movie of mine, and I was glad to find that I liked it.
Dorothy (Dottie) Meyers is a 35-year-old former Math teacher who took care of her mother Ruby during the latter’s final illness a year ago, and now looks after their small farm in Kansas. She receives a surprise visit from her glamorous younger sister Abigail, a Hollywood actress, who seems to be looking for something in the run-down farmhouse but doesn’t reveal what it is. Soon after, Dottie’s farm is hit by a tornado and she injures her head while rescuing her dog Otto. When she awakes after three months in a coma, she finds herself in an assisted living facility in Santa Barbara, California. First Dottie is happy to slowly relearn walking and talking, but then the news that Abby has put up the family farm for auction galvanises her into action. While she was in a coma, her father, who left the family more than 30 years ago and whom Dottie hasn’t seen since, paid her a visit and left her a pair of ruby slippers that may or may not be one of the original pairs from the set of The Wizard of Oz. Now she wants to travel north to San Francisco and beyond to find him, so he can tell her what the slippers mean and perhaps, either with his help or by selling the slippers, she can save the farm.
The parallels to the Wizard of Oz are numerous, ranging from the very obvious like Dottie’s and Otto’s name to the subtle and just hinted-at. I liked that part of the novel tremendously, and it made me want to revisit the movie. For the most part, the parallels don’t feel forced at all and enrich the text beautifully.
First among the people Dottie meets on her version of the Yellow Brick Road is Sophia, an older woman of very strong faith who is recovering from breast cancer at the facility. It is she who offers to drive Dottie north in her car, and who becomes a true friend to her. Dottie used to be a church-going Christian who never really reflected on her beliefs, and Sophia makes her reconsider her relationship with God and with the people around her. So while the novel is deeply Christian in its outlook, its emphasis is on faith, not morals, and I liked the way that human failings are not sermonized about or regarded judgementally at all.
The novel contains both a primary and a secondary romance, happy ending included, but it’s still rather women’s fiction than romance in that the main emphasis is on Dottie’s development and the various relationships she is in, with the romance coming a close third. The hero doesn’t turn up until rather late in the book, which is all for the good, as Dottie has some way to go before she is able to appreciate him. When he does turn up, he is funny and masculine and charming. I liked him a lot.
The best feature of Ruby’s Slippers is its style. When Leanna Ellis describes the surroundings the characters find themselves in, and their reactions to it, her writing is alluringly sensual and evocative. Several times, I found myself rereading a passage for the simple beauty of it, reveling in the colors and smells and sounds.
Unfortunately, the novel’s greatest weakness also lies in its style, plus some characterization. Dottie’s spiritual and emotional growth would have been plausible and moving anyway, but to make it even more so, Leanna Ellis paints it with too heavy strokes. Dottie is unbelievably downtrodden at the start of the novel, her sister unbelievably spoiled, their late mother the salt of the earth – you get the drift. Later there’s more differentiation in characterization, but by then Dottie’s inner musings tend to spell out the very obvious, repeatedly. It is a pity that a writer who is able of such subtlety in the same book felt impelled to use such a heavy hand here.
In spite of this caveat, I enjoyed Ruby’s Slippers a lot. If you go for sensuous descriptions and like the kind of Christianity promoted in the novel, this might be an excellent read for you.