Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente - Long Title

Pros: Vivid, fantastical descriptions, good story, excellent end
Cons: Depends on what you're expecting...

The Bottom Line: Like the old classics, but so, so much better.

This was the final 2011 ABC Book Club book hosted by Calico Reaction. While I admit I didn’t vote for it, I am super happy it won because I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’d heard of this book before, thought it definitely had a wacky title, figured it probably wasn’t for me, and moved along. Guess you just never know. The one word I noticed most of us using when discussing this book was "delightful." That's because it is. It's an excellent fairytale that stems from the old styles like Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the vein of Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Catherynne Valente takes us to the world of Fairyland alongside a girl named September. She’s whisked off by the Green Wind and discovers a world where there are forests in eternal autumn, cities named Pandemonium, where an evil Marquess rules, where things with wings are chained to never fly again, and meets some extraordinary characters along the way.

Initially I was worried that this book would make as much sense (re: not much at all) as some of the previous classics out there – like Alice and Oz. Because we just meet September when suddenly she’s on the back of a flying leopard talking to a man who is the Green Wind and going to Fairyland without any issues at all. It’s an abrupt start, to be sure, but soon we start to get more into the story. We learn a little more about September. We’re being narrated to by someone unnamed, but they’re a very charming narrator so it’s okay. Plus, September ends up being very well fleshed out as a character so we’re ready to go along with whatever she does and wherever she goes.

The characters she meets are fascinating and have their own powerful personalities. The Wyvern (or rather, Wyverary) A-Through-L is absolutely adorable and I loved Saturday as well, a wish-giving Marid. All the places that September visits are bursting with color and amazing things, food and scents. Wild bicycles roam the plains. Towns are built entirely of fabric. Shadows can be parted from you (painfully) and dance on their own like Peter Pan’s. This is the kind of book I know I would have loved as a kid because I love it as an adult. It’s fanciful, has a strong heroine, unique ideas, and an absolute whopper of an ending. No joke, I never saw it coming. Even more impressive is that you can sympathize with the people involved and wonder to yourself – what would you do in such a situation? Blurs the lines a bit, it does.

I recommend this to adults and children alike. It’s a fun ride and hard to put down. It’s the kind of thing that Hayao Miyazaki would have a field day with, though I think even he would have a hard time capturing all the colors. Oh, and there are even some fun references to other children who have visited other lands…like those kids who went through a wardrobe…


Originally posted on

Notes from the playlist: "Kill Your Heroes" by Awolnation

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