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Summary and book reviews of Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy

by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts X
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2019, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

Chapter 1
Hollywood
October 1938

It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid. From the flashing needles of the tailors in the costume shop to the zoo where the animals were trained, from the matzo ball soup in the commissary to the blinding-­white offices in the brand-­new Thalberg executive building, an army of people—­composers and musicians, technicians and tinsmiths, directors and actors—­spun thread into gold. Once upon a time, dreams were made by hand, but now they were mass-­produced. These forty-­four acres were their assembly line.

Outside its walls, the brown hills, tidy neighborhoods, and rusting oil derricks of Culver City gave no hint of magic; but within the gates of M-­G-­M—­Metro, as it was known—­you stepped inside an enchanted kingdom. A private trolley line that cut through the center of the studio's back lots could whisk you across ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Almost everyone remembers watching the iconic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Share your special memories: Did you see it in a theater or on television? Did you watch it every year? What characters and scenes have remained with you? What frightened you the most? Did reading Finding Dorothy make you want to watch the film again?
  2. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." What is your favorite line from The Wizard of Oz?
  3. Did you ever read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book? Before reading Finding Dorothy, how much did you know about the author's life? Do you think it's surprising that the story is so much better known than its author? How often ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Finding Dorothy is a fictionalized yet thoroughly researched peek behind the curtain of the famous stories of Oz, exploring the lives of Maud and Frank and their experiences that later surfaced in Baum's famous novels, including one that inspired a classic American film. Elizabeth Letts narrates Maud Gage Baum's biography eloquently, while reminding readers that they should never lose hope that a brighter day is waiting just beyond the rainbow...continued

Full Review (706 words).

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(Reviewed by Jordan Lynch).

Media Reviews

Booklist
While some scenes involving Maud and Judy feel implausible, Maud is a fascinating character, and this is a poignant, absorbing tale of the life and love story that led to the creation of a beloved classic.

Library Journal
Fans of the Oz novels or film will be enchanted. This is a great fit for readers of Christine Baker Kline and Lisa Wingate, and will surely be a popular choice for book clubs.

Kirkus Reviews
Much is made in these pages about the power of make-believe, and while the book falls short of magical, it's still an absorbing read.

Booklist
Maud [Gage Baum] is a fascinating character, and this is a poignant, absorbing tale of the life and love story that led to the creation of a beloved classic.

Library Journal
Readers looking for an inspiring true story will be delighted...[Letts] again crafts a tale of fortitude and triumph over adversity...Fans of the Oz novels or film will be enchanted. This is a great fit for readers of Christina Baker Kline and Lisa Wingate, and will surely be a popular choice for book clubs...[A] well-researched novelization.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Letts expertly illuminates the true story behind the tale beloved by so many readers through history, but best of all is the wonderful depiction of Maud herself. This is a crowd-pleasing, thoroughly satisfying novel.

Author Blurb Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
A breathtaking read that will transport you over the rainbow and into the heart of one of America's most enduring fairy tales and the hardscrabble life that inspired it. Gripping, fascinating, Finding Dorothy is a novel for anyone who ever stared in awe as Oz came to life onscreen, and wondered what other secrets lay hidden behind the curtain. A dream of a book you'll want to savor and share!

Author Blurb Paula McLain, author of Love and Ruin
Old Hollywood is its own kind of Oz in Finding Dorothy, complete with false dazzle and complex combinations of threat and allure. But what really satisfies here is the unlikely friendship between L. Frank Baum's unsinkable widow, Maud, and the young Judy Garland, on the vulnerable cusp of fame. It's an alliance that seems touched with magic and serendipity and something even more transformative, true understanding between women.

Author Blurb Martha Hall Kelly, author of Lilac Girls
Beautifully researched and written, Finding Dorothy pulls back the curtain on a fascinating relationship behind the making of The Wizard of Oz.

Author Blurb Melanie Benjamin, author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
A woman with a heart, a brain, courage to spare, and a girl's sense of wonder - this is the heroine of Elizabeth Letts's sparkling, touching . Maud Baum is the daughter of a suffragette and the wife of a dreamer, but she is also a force to be reckoned with in her own right.

Author Blurb Pam Jenoff, author of The Orphan's Tale
istorical fiction fans will rejoice. With meticulous research and vivid detail, Elizabeth Letts explores both Maud's life story leading up to the writing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and her determination to see that the film remained true to her husband's vision as it was made in 1930's Hollywood. Letts takes readers on an unflinching journey between hardship and hope, with a catch-your-breath ending.

Author Blurb RenĂ©e Rosen, author of White Collar Girl
More than just a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of The Wizard of Oz, Finding Dorothy is a heartfelt look at the origins of a beloved story told, through the eyes of the woman closest to its creator. From capturing the pioneering spirit of a family settling out West to the fight for women's suffrage, and the vulnerability of a young Judy Garland on the threshold of stardom, Finding Dorothy is filled with pitch-perfect wonderment.

Reader Reviews

Jennifer

Nice but not a lot to discuss
I enjoyed reading this book. I like the story, I like the characters. I could tell the author did research to make the story believable and historically relevant. A nice fast read. I just don't think there is enough to prompt a good book club ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Restoration of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

Dorothy's ruby slippers on display at the SmithsonianFinding Dorothy is the fictionalized story of Maud Gage Baum, the wife of L. Frank Baum of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame. Through dual narratives, Elizabeth Letts explores the lives of the Baums and the inspirations that led Frank to pen his famous novel, while also featuring Maud's fight to see her husband's work honored as it was adapted for the silver screen in The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939. The movie became a hit, winning two Oscars, and has frequently been ranked one of the best films of the past 100 years.

Although the film's characters, songs and fantastical settings are well-recognized by many, perhaps the most iconic piece of memorabilia from the film are Dorothy's ruby slippers. In the original text, the shoes are silver...

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