‘The Hackers of Oz’
Author: Tom Mula
Bookmarks: Four out of five
Back in 2011, I created a list of the top holiday-themed books I love. One book was “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.” The author, Tom Mula, has finally (and thankfully) released a new book this year which pays homage to another great literary classic while giving it an inventive spin.
This time, the Wonderful Land of Oz comes to the real world in “The Hackers of Oz,” in which a young heroine much like L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy confronts a familiar, although strikingly different, face of evil.
Elizabeth is a typical 10-year-old — unless you count her obsession with organization and routine, her New Age-lifestyle mother, and the fact that one night the hay-stuffed Scarecrow and patchwork-doll, Scraps, bursts into her bedroom through her computer.
Scarecrow and Scraps have come from Oz to warn Elizabeth of a vengeful danger — when wicked witches are destroyed in Oz, they don’t truly disappear. The Wicked Witch of the West is in Elizabeth’s world — the windy city of Chicago, to be precise — and Elizabeth, being a GLG (Good Little Girl), finds herself tangled up in a dangerous dilemma.
With the help of an enchanted broom, a man whose transformation into a dog and back to human leaves him with some odd habits, and her new Ozian friends, Elizabeth sets a plan to thwart the malaise of colorless, joyless “perfection” being spread by the witch. Things only grow more bizarre from there.
I have always enjoyed Mula’s wry sense of wit in his stories, and “Hackers of Oz” finds a good balance between its twisted humor and genuine tenderheartedness.
While arguably not a novel for younger readers (there are a handful of adult jokes), Elizabeth is a compelling young protagonist. She has to be the “adult” of the house, as her mother is the flighty, “hippie” parent who acts more childlike than her own child. Elizabeth pines for “normalcy” in her life which, of course, she discovers nothing is “normal” about her family at all. But at the same time, the reader sees snippets of the budding rebel itching to come out.
It is fun to read how her initial view of perfection — orderliness, predictability and conformity — changes once she understands how much better the world is with surprises, impulse and a little eccentricity.
Being a Chicago resident, Mula’s novel is an ode to the Midwestern city as well, as the characters traverse the various museums, avenues and venues of Chicago while on their adventure. Chicago is to the Ozian characters what Oz was to Dorothy: an enigmatic place of unusual wonder and discovery. It is a clever and touching way for Mula to show how there is magic in our real world as wondrous as any land of Oz; it depends on how you look at it.
While some characters’ actions are questionable — for example, when Elizabeth’s mother suddenly goes missing, why does Elizabeth never think to call the police or ask an adult for help? — there is enough whimsical madcap action one may forgive the lapses in logic.
If you are a fan of the original Baum stories and are looking for something more light-hearted than Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” series, “Hackers of Oz” is a delightful tribute to the Oz universe, both the books and film.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.