The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Feiwel & Friends on May 10, 2011
Series: Fairyland #1
Genres: Children's, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Young Adult
Length: 247 pages Source: Amazon
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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.
Although I have seen some shining reviews for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, this book landed on my TBR because of a album by folk singer S.J. Tucker. Folk music can be really hit or miss, and I feel like those who enjoy it particularly latch on to certain artists and I love S.J. Tucker. So first of all, if you like the Fairyland series, check out her album Wonder, which is inspired by the series and created with Cathrynne M. Valente’s blessing. My particular favorite song on the album is “Ask Me Anything”.
Okay! That out of the way….
What a delightful fairytale!
Middle grade books are either magical or terrible, which I know is a bit dramatic. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is not just magical, it is positively enchanting. There’s a lightness to it so well suited for fairytales. It makes it a fun read for adults, lithe and free. Also, at times, the writing has just the right edge of humor. It reminded me of Lemony Snicket, albeit the story was considerably less tragic.
September is a sweet girl, kind-hearted but a child in all the best ways, although I believe she was twelve. All the characters in the book are memorable – from Lye to Gleam to Saturday and A-Through-L. One of my favorites was the Key. Writing an inanimate object as a heroic figure, especially when it only receives two POV chapters, takes quite a bit of skill. I’m actually looking forward to seeing it again in the next book!
The magic in this series is both lovely and a little gruesome at times. There are bits you don’t really think of as dark until you think about it later, like Lye cutting off her fingers and September’s near transformation. Or the conditions under which Saturday can grant wishes. Nonetheless, I liked it? I feel like it honored old, traditional fairytales – after all, Grimm’s original fairytales are a bit horrifying in their original format. While by no means is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland bloody, there are just those things that are a bit harsh when you think about them later. I also really appreciate the rules of the world. Modern fantasy writers far too often create consequence-free worlds.
I never felt like there were scenes in this novel that were there just to be amusing – everything followed September’s adventure, and every meeting had a purpose later on. There was a scripted, traditional feel to the novel that gave it charm and determination. The chapter lengths were good and the illustrations are adorable. There are cameo characters that I loved, like September’s Death and even the moment of seeing September’s Shadow. There’s just so many little things this book that delighted me, it was so easy to gobble it up.
No matter your age, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a perfectly wonderful tale. Children will remember it with the same fondness as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Adults will fall into the story like they are children again. It’s a short book and therefore a quick read, but it’s one that I’m really happy to have on my shelf.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Stays on my Shelf!
It’s early as I write this, so I’m not sure it comes across as much as I want it to, but I absolutely adored this book. It’s just the type of light, easy book I would pick up again when I need something delightful and diverting I can read in a day or two. That puts it in the same category as Time Cat and The BFG and other books I treasured as a child.
Do you enjoy fairytales? I adore them, even though I do find it exhausting to read the same retellings over and over again. I suppose that’s why this book feels fresh – Valente created a new fairytale instead of referring to another one. Tell me about your favorite fairytales in the comments!