Knowing that every story has more than one side, Maguire has recreated Oz to show the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view, in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Is Elphie, as she is known by her friends (Yes, friends!), evil or just cranky in her misunderstood isolation? She is a woman who has been harassed since birth due to her appearance. She’s a smart person, dedicated to the pursuit of truth and improving life in Oz. She has little patience with social niceties; her friends must accept her as she is. She has a love of her life and loses him. After a few disappointments and recovering from a breakdown, she becomes a recluse, doing her own thing. She’s been called derogatory names all her life, so the Wicked Witch title is no surprise and does not disturb her, though it gets in the way when she’s forced to deal with others. In the end, she is not the only one misunderstood. She also misunderstands Dorothy and lacks the communication skills to work out the problem.

The best part of the book is Elphie and her growth as a person. She’s a strong person struggling with defeat and doesn’t manage to figure out a course for her future; she retreats from life instead. In retreat, she finds some enjoyment and is relied upon by her companions.

There are some interesting explorations of evil centering around religion, politics, and human behavior, mirroring our world. One particular idea is the reappearance of the character Yackle throughout the book. She appears as an Earth Mother, a legendary figure with roots beyond history, a blending of good and evil. She reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s anthropomorphic personifications (ex. Death, Hogfather). I wonder if her existence and the idea of evil are meant to be in the eye of the beholder. Evil is one of those things that is hard to pin down. We believe we know it when we see it; but what if we are not seeing clearly just then?

I enjoyed Wicked despite its fits and starts. There were some slow moving parts. If you are the kind of person who needs an explanation for everything, this book may not be for you. The book leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Personally, I like that in a book. It touches on The Wizard of Oz story just enough to remind us that it’s Oz, a much more real and depressing Oz. But more interesting, too. There were some parts and characters I would have liked to see developed more – Boq (Elphie’s intellectual friend) and the Animals (having human qualities but animal forms).

There are study questions at the end of the story for those wishing to delve. There is a Broadway musical Wicked based on the novel, and a possible future movie, though there is no info to be found.

I’d also like to mention that the illustrations by Douglas Smith are cool.