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

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Rating:   9-tails

There’s a marvelous used bookstore in Nashville that could overwhelm you with the sheer volume of books, music, movies, and even legos if you didn’t know where “your” section is. On one particular day, I walked into McKay’s, made a beeline for the MG section, and scanned each and every title for something that inspired me to read. I had been listless. No books I had tickled my fancy for several weeks. It’s not often I don’t want to read. Even in Edinburgh during my masters, I read for fun, despite the required two books a week. So, I roamed the bookshelves until I landed on Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland for short), and I knew I had a winner.

I’m a sucker for fairies and faeries, whimsical folklore, and everything in between. In short, enchantment. Valente delivered just that in Fairyland, where September discovers a new world like only a child could—by invitation from a Green Wind and a Leopard.

September’s adventures are nothing short of bewitching and even a little terrifying if one were only a child and whisked away to a completely different world, where “all traffic travels widdershins” and “you may in no fashion cross the borders of the Worsted Wood, or you [could possibly perish].” She meets several people (Or are they fairies? Creatures?) and makes friends along the way that all contribute to her growth throughout the story. One thing is certain, September comes out of the story changed. While her character growth is obvious, she still maintains some of the aspects that we loved about her in the first place. Even if her childhood innocence is a little dimmer after what she experiences, she still approaches the world with wonderment, and that is something I love and admire.

Valente’s style reminds me of Victorian literature with a contemporary flair. From the way the sentences flow from one to another, and how the ideas are expressed, it’s clear she gave the story careful consideration. Her chapter titles and descriptions is a nice touch in that it recalls an older time when you were given a glimpse into what happens, ie. “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.” While I love all of this, my one concern is that younger children will not understand everything that is happening. Which is why I would suggest a parent reading it with them, or at least being around to answer questions. However, if the child is anything like me, she or he might just skip it and move along because the novel is too good to set down. That’s the great thing about Fairyland. No matter how much or how little of the nuanced writing you understand, you can still enjoy the story.

Fairyland hastens you away on a Green Wind with September, giving you the chance to meet wyverns, witches, and spriggans. Valente’s writing enchants you and leaves you wanting to read the second installment in the series. 9 tails

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