As I was putting together the book map for Kansas, I came across an interesting conundrum: where in Kansas was Dorothy from? (Or, more to the point, Amy Gumm?)

L. Frank Baum’s books don’t give the name of any towns near where Dorothy lived with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em on their farm. And Baum never lived in Kansas either. Apparently, he grew up in upstate New York in one of the northern suburbs of Syracuse (bonus points to any reader who remembers that I also grew up in upstate NY), and was rather distraught by the change in scenery when he moved with his wife to northeastern South Dakota, which was experiencing a drought. He based his descriptions of drab, gray Kansas on his (unhappy) memories of drought-stricken Aberdeen, South Dakota (where there is now a Storyland park featuring a Land of Oz).

However, despite the bad rap that Kansas gets in the Oz books and the movie version, several towns have tried to claim that they are Dorothy’s hometown. (One can only assume they somehow felt this would be a wise investment leading to vast tourist dollars…)

One of these towns is Liberal, Kansas, home of Dorothy’s House & the Land of Oz. This park consists of a Kansas farmhouse and a 5000 square foot area that have been transformed into movie replicas (with animatronics) and a collection of memorabilia from the movie. But the town of Wamego, Kansas (about 300 miles away) also has an Oz Museum with movie memorabilia, plus exhibits on The Wiz and the various books by Baum and others. (I’ve marked both of these towns on the book map for Kansas.)

When Danielle Paige wrote Dorothy Must Die, obviously, she needed her hero, Amy Gumm, to live in Kansas. However, she seems to have taken a cue from Baum and not made her Kansas locale a specific one. The trailer park is named the Dusty Acres Mobile Community, and the town (mentioned only a handful of times by name) is Flat Hill. Yes. You read that right. Flat. Hill. Kansas. (As an aside, the boyfriend of the mean, popular girl/bully, is named Dustin.)

Then we really get into the Kansas stereotypes. (Although, as with so many stereotypes, there seems to be a grain of truth to them.)

There are a number of comments about the “Kansas farm girl” type–strong, buxom, curvy, … and not necessarily wholesome.

I have to say, I did a double take when I realized that the popular girl/bully in the Kansas part of the story was pregnant. In my upstate New York, country, farm kid school, there was no way that “popular girl” was also “pregnant.” From what I remember (and what I’ve gleaned from the ages of kids and grandkids of my former classmates through Facebook), there may have been several girls at my school whose education was… cut short, shall we say… as a result of a teenage pregnancy. But those girls were definitely not the popular ones; they were the tough ones–the ones you didn’t mess with unless you wanted trouble. But in Amy’s Kansas school, Madison Pendleton and her boyfriend Dustin are still on track to be king and queen of the prom–they aren’t just tough, they’re popular, too.

And Amy’s mom’s reaction? Hilarious–in an extremely awkward, painful way:

Mom paused and bit her lip. “You don’t see it, do you? She’s already getting hers. You don’t need to help it along.” … Mom flung her hand out and gripped the air, mimicking a pregnant belly. “I give her a year. Two tops before she’s got a trailer of her own around the corner. That boy she’s with won’t stay. And she’ll be left with a little bundle of karma.”
I shook my head. “She’s walking around like she’s God’s gift. Like she and Dustin are still going to be prom king and queen.”
“Ha!” Mom hooted. “Now. but the second that kid comes, her life is over.” … “One second, you have everything, your whole life ahead of you,” she said, fluffing her hair in the reflection from the stove. “And then, boom. They just suck it all out of you like little vampires till there’s nothing left of you.”
It was clear she wasn’t talking about Madison anymore. She was talking about me. I was her little vampire.

Although it’s a hurtful thing to say to your own child, there is some truth to it, especially, I think, for a teen mom with little support or resources.

And then there is the weather stereotype. Tornado Alley is not a well-defined term; its boundaries can change drastically depending on the criteria used to define them. (One of the lists shown on Wikipedia uses criteria that result in Florida and Maryland being near the top of the list of affected states.) But most of the time, the phrase Tornado Alley evokes images of the Great Plains. I lived in southeastern Wisconsin for about 15 years, and most people who live there consider the region to be in Tornado Alley. Although Wisconsin doesn’t always place in the list of states, it was normal for us to experience a dozen or so severe thunderstorms each season, with probably half (or more) of them involving tornado watches and usually at least one tornado warning per summer. (In Weather Service terms, a “watch” means that conditions are right, while a “warning” means a funnel has been spotted.)

Kansas, as one would expect, is always in descriptions or lists related to Tornado Alley. Amy’s mom leaves Amy alone to go to a “tornado party” at the local bar, which reminded me of the tsunami party in Unalaska (although we don’t get to attend the party). When Amy is thinking about the tornado that is predicted, she observes that tornado preparedness information suggests either going to a basement or a bathtub, but trailers don’t generally have either.

Which brings us to the poverty or near poverty. In her initial description of Madison Pendleton, Paige notes that the girl, “thought she was all that because her house had one and a half bathrooms.” This struck me, as it doesn’t seem like an especially high bar to reach. Elsewhere, she mentions, “the town a few miles away from Flat Hill that everyone had abandoned when the plastic flower factory shut down.” (Can we get any more stereotypically cheesy than a plastic flower factory?)

But there’s also a toughness: “They made us strong in Kansas.”

Tornado or no tornado, a girl from Kansas doesn’t let much get to her… and as the road carried me high into the sky, I felt myself becoming less and less afraid… That’s what it means to be from the prairie.

Even though it’s been many, many years since I read any of the books, I enjoyed the references to the various Oz books in Dorothy Must Die. There is a ball at the end of the book, which allows Paige to give walk-on parts to a number of classic Oz characters–Scraps the Patchwork Girl, the Shaggy Man, Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter, the Nome King, and more. But other characters, like Mombi, Ozma and Jellia Jamb, are important characters. Of course, so are Dorothy, Glinda, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, but these characters are now the bad guys, so that gives the nostalgia a rather different feel! The Wizard also appears, and seems to be more closely modeled after the Wizard in the books than the one in the movie, particularly in appearance: “an older man with a narrow face, mischievous eyes, and overgrown, almost hornlike eyebrows.”

I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest of the series or not. There are two more full-length books, plus about 6 novellas or short stories, which seem to be prequels to the main Dorothy Must Die trilogy, and which tell how the various main characters became corrupt. However, I can’t say I feel compelled to read the whole thing. Honestly, I felt the same way reading this as I felt about Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. I was excited when the book came out in 1995 and read it immediately, but, while I enjoyed it, I’ve never felt strongly enough about it to see the musical.

As for my reading challenge, I feel like I got a bit of a new perspective on Kansas–that tough (and maybe mean) girl with attitude is totally different from the turn of the century Dorothy of the original Oz books and movie. I’ve started reading Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum, however, and I have to say that several of her characters have a similar quality, so it seems to be an accurate perspective. Overall, though, Dorothy Must Die is (as expected) more about Oz than about Kansas. So, maybe not a winner for my reading challenge, but not a total loss either.

Me. A hero… even if they could teach me all that stuff, it wouldn’t change who I was on the inside. Salvation Amy from Flat Hill, Kansas. Just a trailer-park girl with a bunch of stupid dreams that would never come true. Weirdly, something my mom had told me once came back to me: You are not where you are from. She’d meant it to cheer me up. To make me believe that growing up in Flat Hill didn’t have to define me for the rest of my life. But the witches thought I was special because of where I came from.

Kansas. I’ll keep reading my list.

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