May 29, 2013
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
Legitimate question before I start this review: Is this a YA book? Or an MG book? Or somewhere in between? Either way, I think the fact that I can’t quite put this into a firm category is an absolute strength of this book—it’s one of those books that can be enjoyed by any age group. This book has a sort of timelessness to it, which I think contributes to that. Twelve-year-old September is not quite happy with her life at home and so gets whisked away to Fairyland (as you do), where she finds herself having to save Fairyland from the harsh rule of the Marquess. This book is brilliant and charming and, above all, intelligent.
I won’t lie, it did take me a few chapters to get into this book. At the time I started reading it, I was reading a couple books at a time, not really putting my full attention into any one in particular. Which is generally fine, but THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND is a book that demands attention. Like I said, the writing is charming and intelligent, and makes for a quirky read—perfect for a fun adventure through Fairyland. Once I set down my other books, made myself comfy, and put my full attention to this book, I could not stop reading. It’s a bit breathtaking and absolutely beautiful.
The most notable aspect of this book is, of course, the writing. It’s got all the charm of old school fairytale narrators; you know those mostly third-person narrators with first-person “between you and me” direct address moments with the reader. Though the style may take a while to get used to (it did for me), I completely adored it once I did, and it was an absolute asset to the novel.
And the characters were fantastic. September was brave and strong and dynamic, just the type of character who want to see take on all the troubles Fairyland is apt to bring about. She’s the type of girl who never gives up, even when anyone else would have. Then there’s the kind and gente Saturday, who just makes me want to draw a heart in the air every time he speaks. And, of course, I can’t forget Ell, the Wyverary.
What’s a Wyverary, you ask?
Well, when a wyvern and a library really, really love each other . . .
No really, the Wyverary is a cross between a wyvern (sort of like a dragon) and a library, because that’s the kind of thing that happens in Fairyland.
The interactions between these three friends as they navigate between Fairyland is absolutely fantastic, and the way the author intertwines their internal character development with the external forces around them is done so masterfully, and I think a lot of writers could learn from it.
This book is nonsense and silly and funny and a little bit dark at times. It’s about growing up, being on the cusp of leaving childhood and how exciting and terrifying that can be. It’s bittersweet.
And it’s definitely not for everyone. I have back and forth feelings on the fact that this is, technically, a children’s book. Even with the amount of reading I do I still had trouble following this book at times. It’s definitely reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I think to say something like “children won’t get this” is really stupid and does a huge disservice to children. Instead, I just think children and adults will enjoy this book in different ways. Besides, it’s always good to read books together.
So I would highly recommend this book for those who are looking for the charm of fairytales likes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.