ONE FOR THE BOOKS: Reimagining classic children’s* stories (*That aren’t for kids)

By Mary Louise Ruehr | Books Editor Published:

How would you like to travel again to the fantasy realms of Oz and Neverland, only older and wiser? 

 

Dorothy Must Die” by Danielle Paige is a modern-day sequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” It begins in Flat Hill, Kansas, where teenager Amy Gumm (a bit of fun: “Gumm” was Judy Garland’s real last name) is bullied by kids who call her “trailer trash.” She dyes her hair pink to make her gray life seem less drab. Rather than the good witch’s adage in the “Wizard,” “There’s no place like home,” Amy thinks to herself, “There’s no place like anywhere but here.”

Amy’s irresponsible mother drinks, steals her savings, and, when tornado sirens warn of a coming storm, leaves Amy alone to fend for herself. 

The tornado takes Amy to Oz, of course, along with her mother’s pet rat, Star. Oh, it’s Oz, all right, complete with a road of yellow bricks. 

But Amy discovers this isn’t Dorothy’s Oz. Everything has “a faded, washed-out quality.” The plant life is decidedly hostile, and even with the fantastic creatures she meets, “There was something dead about all of it.”

The first person she encounters is a boy about her own age, who saves her life. He tells her: “This is where it all began for her, you know. I don’t know why you’re here or who brought you, Pink Hair, but if you’re here, it means it’s all beginning for you, too. You’re like her in so many ways, but I can tell you’re different. I can’t help you. I’m not powerful enough. But you can help yourself. Prove me right. Don’t make the same mistakes she made.” 

The “her,” of course, is Dorothy Gale, of “Wizard” fame. Statues of Dorothy can be found everywhere. 

It turns out that Dorothy had indeed gone home to Kansas, but was brought back to Oz and made a princess. Once given a taste of magic, she wanted more, and then couldn’t get enough. It’s because of her that Oz is dying.

Amy is recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to destroy Dorothy and save Oz in a rather complicated scheme. Amy sums it up: “So this was what I was up against. A psychotic midwesterner with a reservoir of magic who was never alone, surrounded by loyal killers that would disfigure one of their own without a second thought.”

Here are the Tin Woodman, the Not-So-Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow — all completely loathsome in their new roles. Here are the Munchkins, the Flying Monkeys, Glinda and the other witches, half-metal people, living trees and eavesdropping cows. 

It’s actually a pretty good story. I read it right through and enjoyed it, but I was completely disappointed with the unexpected cliffhanger ending. Nowhere did it say it was the first of series, even in the promotional material for the book. It really just stops.

There’s a lot of cringeworthy violence, but my main gripe is the unnecessary profanity in a book aimed at young adults. Using terms such as “badass” is one thing; repeated use of the “f” word and others is another. 

I recommend it, but for older teens and adults.

 

Alias Hook” by Lisa Jensen reimagines Captain Hook, who is “still trapped in the Neverland, the nightmare that never ends.” He tells us that in the final battle in “Peter Pan,” the boys had killed his entire crew and left him to the jaws of the crocodile. But the croc spat him out and let him go. 

That was 200 years ago. Hook, you see, is doomed; he cannot die, and he cannot escape Neverland.

The clever back story explains how James Benjamin Hookbridge, in the 17th century, became the captain of a pirate ship. As a young man, he was bullied and found that “Affection made a person vulnerable, and so I learned to mask whatever feelings might be seen as weak in myself behind a show of bravado.”

We learn how Hook came to Neverland and how and why he lost his hand. We also see a new side to Peter Pan: When someone says Peter “is youth and joy and innocence,” Hook replies, “He is sorrow, guile, death.” We see the boy’s evil machinations from a new perspective.

Hook describes Pan’s island: “There’s witchcraft in it, the low fog that encircles the bay and prevents escape. Only Pan knows the way through, and none of the Lost Boys he’s guided out of the Neverland ever remembers the way out when they come back to me as men.”

But at the heart of this story is a romance. An adult woman named Parrish, about 30 years old (Hook appears to be 43), is discovered on the island. This is new. “No other grown woman has ever been seen in the Neverland. Never, ever.” The boy won’t permit it. Why is she there? Whose side is she on? Hook is smitten.

The book brings back the fairies, the Indians, the mermaids, the ticking crocodile, the pirates, and, of course, the Lost Boys. 

The premise is unique, the action is interesting, the writing is good, and the book can be funny. There is quite a bit of bloody violence. 

But here’s my complaint: It is NOT for children — not in the slightest. If the adult language and explicit sex scenes were removed, the book would lose none of its effect and would then be acceptable for younger readers. I picked it up thinking it was targeted toward the YA audience, but as it is, I recommend it only for adults. 

These are both good reads, but how silly, reimagining classic children’s stories that children can’t appreciate.

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Louise Ruehr

 

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