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After my usual vacillation, contemplation, hesitation, and general reluctance, I finally decided to read "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire, which is the biography of the Wicked Witch of the West, the villain in “The Wizard of Oz”. Why the uncertainty as to whether to invest in this book? Well, I know how it ends and if you haven’t seen the Wizard of Oz, then I don’t want to spoil the end for you (and I do want to introduce you to my friends the television set and DVD player) so you should stop reading now.

For the rest of you who haven’t been living in another world, you know that the Witch ultimately meets her end when a young country bumpkin unwittingly murders her with just a bucket of water. Knowing that it would all end in tears, I just wasn’t sure if the ride would be worth it. In the end, I have to say that I remain conflicted as to whether or not I got my money’s worth.

Let’s start with expectations. I expected that the Witch would be depicted as the heroine and Dorothy as a conniving little girl. I also thought it would be the story of Dorothy’s visit to Oz, but shown through the eyes of the Witch. I was so wrong in so many ways.

This book is actually the life story, from birth to death, of a young girl named Elphaba who is born in the southeast of the Land of Oz to an adulterous mother and a preacher father. Her mother and father are both shocked and saddened when their first child arrives with glowing green skin and pointedly sharp teeth. They believe that they are being punished by The Unamed God for some sin they have committed and so Elphaba enters the world without the parental love and attention that she so desperately needs.

This story is more of a political thriller than a fantasy book. It has an intricate and sometimes confusing societal and political structure that is intriguing as you see some of the obvious comparisons to American and European history. The Land of Oz was once ruled by a beautiful princess, but, close to the time that Elphaba was born, a Wizard arrived in a hot air balloon and promptly overthrew the reigning royalty to become leader of Oz. This is not the benevolent Wizard we are accustomed to as this Wizard appears to be power hungry and abusive to his people. As a teenager, Elphaba is sent to an exclusive school near the Emerald City where the “upper class” send their children. An expensive school, Elphaba can only afford the tuition due to the generosity of her grandparents and so lacks the same clothes and other status symbols that the other girls carry like badges of honor. While she remains unbothered by her “outcast” status, her roommate, Glenda, is initially mortified to find that she is stuck rooming with this ugly green girl. The introduction of Glenda is the most fun, in my opinion, because she defies your expectations. She is a spoiled heiress who has never been forced to use her brain for anything other than fashion sense and who expects that she will not have to use her brain at boarding school either. It is interesting to see how Elphaba influences Glenda by making her really think about life outside of Glenda’s own personal sphere.

As time passes, we learn more about the wicked Wizard’s actions and the subsequent effects on Oz. In Oz, there are “animals” and there are “Animals”, the difference being that “Animals” can talk and are as smart as people. For reasons unknown, the Wizard has taken steps to segregate and discriminate against “Animals”, which infuriates Elphaba and sets her on a path that ultimately leads her from Animal Rights activism to defeat and isolation in a castle where she meets her demise.

This book is witty, full of thrills and chills, and just downright intriguing. I was engrossed in it and couldn’t put it down. I would recommend this book for no other reason than that it is a different kind of story that I think you will enjoy!

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