Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

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“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

TITLE & AUTHOR: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

GENRE: Fantasy/YA/Children’s/Fairy Tale

PUBLISHED : May 10th 2011, by Feiwel & Friends

MY RATING: 5/5

 

Alice in Wonderland meets Peter Pan meets September and September wins

Now, before I start I must stress that Alice in Wonderland is my ultimate childhood love book, which endured with me through the decades of teenage and adult years and which I know I’ll still utterly love when I’m ninety years old (if I live that long), and it’s one of the few rare things that managed that. Peter Pan is a close second. Fairyland is not better, it’s a blasphemy for me to even write that, but if it were written in the 19th or early 20th century – it damn would be. This is one of the few books that should be read in 100 years time as a beloved children’s classic.

I’m not making these parallels to make you think Fairyland is built upon these classics, or that it’s an attempt of Ms. Valente to improve them in some way, using someone else’s imagination, because this novel has so much imagination of its own that it seeps through the pages. I’m making the parallels because they’re noticeable once you read it, and you will notice, but don’t let that deter you from picking up this fantastic book, because it’s so much more, and it stands firmly on its own bookish feet.

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The story starts right away with its main character – a twelve-year-old girl named September – being plucked from her everyday life in Omaha by a personification of a Green Wind to go on an adventure. September didn’t fall through any holes, she simply chose to go because an adventure was what she needed. She was so desperate to go in fact, that she dropped one of her shoes whilst climbing on the Leopard of Little Breezes to take her away to Fairyland.

Fairyland is a peculiar place, but every place comes with rules: no iron allowed; never tell anyone your true name; eating or drinking of Fairy foodstuffs constitutes a binding contract to return at least once a year. September tried her best to remember these rules, but her excitement for adventure got in the way. And an adventure she got. First she meets two witches, Hello and Goodbye, and their husband Manythanks who is also a witch but a Wairwulf too. Then and there September decides to go on a quest – to retrieve the witches’ spoon which was stolen by the evil Marquess, and that is only the start of her adventure.

Throughout Fairyland, September will meet many peculiar beings, like a Wyverary, a Soap Golem, a Marid, and of course the Marquess. Some will become her faithful companions and some her mortal enemies, and through various choices September has to make she will lose some of herself, but she will gain some too.

“One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.”

The writing of Ms. Valente is astonishingly beautiful, whimsical and symbolic, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. I enjoyed every sentence of it. Her characters are adorable but not corny; her world-building is magnificent and vast; her heroine is not a weak, misguided child filled with doubt that somehow *poof* becomes the chosen one – September chooses her her own faith and purpose, and shows exceptional bravery, loyalty and wit, even though she’s a little bit Heartless and irascible, but then every child is.

The illustrations of the amazingly talented Ana Juan are gorgeous, and a marvel to look at, they fit the tone perfectly.

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I realize now that this is a very incoherent review, but it’s an incoherent book – in a good, amazing way. It’s pure whimsical madness and you’re missing so much if you don’t try it. You’re missing tons of imagination wrapped into pure delight. But be warned – not everything is milk and cookies in this exceptional fairy tale.

“Readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.”

 

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