Maguire, up to now a writer of kids' books, turns his considerable child-captivating skills to adults--and adult children--in this magical telling of the land of Oz before and up to the arrival of Dorothy and company. While perhaps not quite as wonderful a land as Alice's, Maguire's Oz is magical and intriguing, and he adeptly fills in the ""historical"" background of talking animals, tin woodsmen, flying monkeys, and rejoicing Munchkins without it ever seeming familiar or contrived. In Munchkinland, a green-skinned baby is born to an often absent missionary preacher and the often drunk heiress to the county seat, neither of them Munchkins themselves. Baby Elphaba's parents' habits being what they are, though, her true father long remains a mystery--as it does for her sister, Nessarose, born two years later with pink skin but sans arms (magic red shoes will later enable her to walk without assistance). The girls grow up and attend the university, where Elphie, always the outsider in her verdant skin, is bright, sharp-tongued, and aloof. Nessie, unable to touch, has chosen an untouchable world and lives her life in religious sanctimoniousness. Elphie's roommate is--perfectly--Glinda, a dippy, well-intentioned debutante sort majoring in sorcery. Meanwhile, the school's frightening headmistress places a spell on the girls and assigns each of them a quadrant of the land, leaving one unattended. Elphie is conscientious and honest, hardly a witch and certainly not evil, but her life unfolds along a path that is well laid out, though not by her. Her journey along this road is a captivating, funny, and perceptive look at destiny, personal responsibility, and the not-always-clashing beliefs of faith and magic. Save a place on the shelf between Alice and The Hobbit.