Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts: A Book Review

Finding Dorothy
Author: Elizabeth Letts
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 12, 2019
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 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.

     My Review: Maud is a university student who is pursuing a degree. One day, she drops out of college to marry a struggling actor named Frank L. Baum. The couple experiences many hard times. However, Frank is very optimistic and believes in the world of imagination. He penns The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which becomes a bestseller. Decades later, MGM Studios is making a movie based on the book. Maud believes that she should Judy Garland, the actress who play Dorothy, and help her to become a star.

  The novel has two storylines. The first storyline tells the story of Maud’s courtship and marriage to Frank L. Baum, and how their experiences led to the inspiration of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The other storyline focuses on how Maud help Judy with her personal struggles on the movie set. Honestly, I found the second storyline to be more intriguing than the first because I loved how it focused on the making of the movie and the problems Judy faced while playing Dorothy.

     I liked Maud’s character better in her later years rather than her early years. In her early years, Maud was a very frustrating character. She is practical. However, unlike her passionate suffragette mother, she does not seem to have any interest in women’s rights. She also demeans and patronizes her husband for having an imagination. She doesn't even support her husband during the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and believes he will fail. 

     In Maud’s later years, she is completely different woman. She is proud of how far women have progressed She is proud that her mother was a suffragette. Most of all, she is portrayed as a supportive wife, who shares her husband’s craving of the imagination. She is proud of her husband for having published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Because of these stark contrasts of the same character, I wonder what had changed Maud’s believe in her husband. Is it because it was a bestseller? Would she still have been supportive of her husband had the book failed or would she have reprimanded him for publishing the book? Thus, I did not fully believe in Maud’s transformation.

   Overall,  this novel is about hardships, determination, and love. While I did not think Maud was a fully developed character, I like how well-rounded the other characters are. Frank never gave up in his dreams, even though everyone was telling him to quit. Judy was a young talented actress but she had many personal hardships on set to overcome. The writing was strong but suffered from too much telling rather than showing. Still, ths novel kept me captivated because it featured my favorite star Judy Garland from Old Hollywood and my favorite childhood movie, The Wizard of Oz. I recommend Finding Dorothy for fans of The Paris Wife, Call Me Zelda, and Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Here is the author talking about her new book, Finding Dorothy:

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