The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
By Catherynne M. Valente
Feiwel and Friends May 2011
From the library
September is a 12 year old girl who is bored with her life in Omaha. She is often home alone since her father is off at war and her mother is working in a factory. One day, the Green Wind blows into her window and invites her to Fairyland. She soon meets three witches who entrust her with a quest – to retrieve their stolen spoon from the evil Marquess.
This slight novel pays homage to so many stories that you know and love – The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Winkle in Time, to name a few. But paying homage is not the same as copying; author Catheryne Valente has created a universe and characters that are all her own. Some parts of this story are familiar, like an evil despot who lords over the kingdom. However, there are some truly innovative and fascinating characters, such as the Wyverary whose mother was a wyvern and father was a library and a small blue boy named Saturday who can grant your wish (but only if you defeat him first). The characters are further brought to life by small illustrations at the beginning of each chapter by artist Ana Juan.
Although I enjoyed this book and applaud the author’s creation of a new Fairyland, I missed the feeling of racing through a story. It took some effort to read this book, which I did not expect from a YA fairytale. I think much of it has to do with pacing. There is no in-between in this novel. The characters are either moving at a furious pace or standing absolutely still. Because the reader is learning about this new world and its inhabitants as the book moves along, such fast-paced action can be hard to follow.
The best part of the book is the omnipotent narration, which gives us gems like these: “The trouble was, September didn’t know what sort of story she was in. Was it a merry one or a serious one? How ought she to act? If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end. But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies. Of course, we would like to tell her which. But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. That is why we close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”
This intersection of childhood and adult perception is the crux of the best fairytales. Part of September’s adventure is growing up, making decisions, and making sacrifices as she grows to care for the creatures of Fairyland. Her journey helps her grow from the selfishness of childhood to the awareness of an adult who is concerned for others. Of course, in spite of her growth, September is still a young girl. This gives the narrator the task of filling in the things that September does not yet know about Fairyland or herself in a witty and perceptive manner.
Although Valente has written several other books, this novel was the first time I had heard of her. The Girl Who…began as installments on her website, but will now be the first book in a series. A sequel entitled The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There will be released in October. Ms. Valente has created a vivid and imaginative world that readers old and young will enjoy visiting.