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

March 31, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★★★½

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland #1) by Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrated by Ana Juan
Published: January 1st 2013 by Much In Little
Format: Paperback, 328 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
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4.5 Stars

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. With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, "Fairyland "lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online.

I’m rarely moved to hug a book and breathe a sigh of contentment when I’ve finished reading it, but that’s exactly that I did when The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making ended. Although it took me a while to immerse myself in it and to appreciate what the author was doing, once I got there I didn’t want to put the book down!

Fairyland is a modern successor to the original Alice in Wonderland, which is a grim, mad, and utterly engrossing and definitely un-Disney-ish read. Plagued by boredom, September agrees to leave her home in the company of the mischievous Green Wind, and soon finds herself in the middle of an amazing adventure in Fairyland. She meets a few witches, one of whom has lost her future-telling Spoon to the Marquess, and then a wyverary – the exotic offspring of a wyvern and library – named Wyverary A-Through-L. Her adventure is both heart-warming and engrossing, filled with amazing creatures, magic and hard lessons.

Hidden within the pages of this fun and whimsical adventure are the cold truths of our world that children usually learn through experience. Although many of September’s experiences have to do with fairies and magic, they disguise real world issues like equality and politics. Her ways of countering them are also nuanced – September conquers the hurdles in her path by treating everyone around her as equals, through compassion and understanding, and not with magic. I love the message that this book sends: that everyone could have done what she did if they were brave enough, selfless enough, compassionate enough, and that she didn’t need magical powers or a prophesy for her mission to succeed.

Fairyland is vividly brought to life but the author. Every scene and landscape is richly detailed and masterfully painted, and the beautiful illustrations by Ana Juan add to the magical feel. I particularly love that each chapter is prefaced with information about what is coming up, for example:

Chapter 1:
Exeunt on a Leopard
In Which a Girl Named September Is Spirited Off by Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle

Isn’t it clever? It tells us what’s going to happen without actually telling us what’s going to happen!

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making will sweep readers away, and everyone who remembers bed-time fairy-tales with fondness will love the style of this tale. It’s a perfect book for the young and older alike, and I’ll be eagerly reading the sequels.

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