July 31, 2012

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

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne M. Valente; Illustrated by Ana Juan (Square Fish, 2012)
GENRE: Fantasy / Fairytale
HONORS: Andre Norton Award

REVIEW: While washing pink and yellow teacups in her kitchen sink, September is offered the chance to ride the Leopard of Gentle Breezes to Fairyland with the Green Wind, a natty and mischievous individual. September, who is not only tired of washing teacups, but of Nebraska and of normal life in general, accepts, embarking on an adventure that takes her to Pandemonium, (the capital of Fairyland) and the home of the evil Marquess, to the Autumn territories where it is always Halloween, around the whole of Fairyland in her titular ship and finally to the Lonely Jail, where all is explained. Along the way, she meets a girl made of soap, a Wyverary (a Wyvern that is half  library), witches, pookahs, alchemists, velocipedes, a boy named Saturday and her own Death. While drawing liberally on motifs and themes from multiple fairy tales, Valente manages to construct a story that is both linguistically beautiful and completely unique. September's journey lands her in unexpected and oddly familiar places, while the climax, though (in hindsight) is perfectly, constructed and inevitable, still manages to surprise. A gorgeous and truly special book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a lovely, jewel of a thing, full of enough adventure and emotional resonance to have readers gobbling it up like fairy food.

OPINION: This is, so far, my favorite book of the semester. Valente's narrative voice is playful and sure, drawsing on old-fashioned language and conceits (such as asides to the reader) that in her hands feels fresh and new. Everything about September's story vibrates with energy and color, but what makes it stand out, particularly, is the emotional depth operating beneath the visual and linguistic loveliness. Themes of loneliness, fear and regret play out gracefully to the end, making The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making much more than just a charming face.

IDEAS: A good suggestion for slightly older tweens with the ability to focus on language. While not a difficult read, it does require a bit of focus and maturity from the reader. It would be especially fun for tweens who enjoy fairy tales and classics like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as Valente refers to many of them thematically and stylistically throughout. Also a wonderful choice for a library or school book club, where an adult could help lead discussions on any number of possible topics.

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