Friday, December 28, 2012

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

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this on audio, over the course of driving to and from my parents' for Christmas. I understand I missed out on a lot, not having the illustrations accompanying the text, but the story holds up just fine on its own.

The story follows September, a 12-year-old girl invited by the Green Wind to visit Fairyland. There, she gains a quest from a witch named Goodbye, meets the Marquess, the corrupt ruler of Fairyland, retrieves her mother's sword from the autumn woods, and then, as the title says, circumnavigates fairyland in a ship of her own making. Along the way, there are many whimsical characters and events, and the book is just packed with vivid and creative imagery. I suppose that's where the illustrations might help, but the descriptions can also stand on their own.

The book is told in a self-aware, almost meta way. The narrator frequently cuts in to interject something for the reader, whether it's foreshadowing or things September doesn't know or just a comment on storytelling or Fairyland in general. As the audio is narrated by the author, this seemed the most natural thing in the world, to me.

One thing that kept delighting me about this book is that Catherynne Valente is friends with Seanan McGuire, and she sprinkles several homages to McGuire's work throughout this book. September's name is compared to October, which is the heroine of McGuire's debut series. "I am not a toy," is a line toward the end of the book, which is straight from McGuire's song, "Wicked Girls." And September's favorite things being orange, fall, and Halloween are all traits she shares with McGuire, though the similarity does end there.

That's not to say there's nothing else to like about the book. Like I said, the imagery is creative and whimsical. I have no idea where Valente came up with some of this, though its inclusion in this version of Fairyland seems the most natural thing in the world. There are references that ground it to a fantastical world we know and love, but mostly, this Fairyland is populated with a slight twist on tired tropes, which is something I love to read. These elements are fused without seeming random or out of the blue, which is a tricky balancing act, one Valente pulls off without making it look difficult.

This would be an excellent book to read to a middle grade (age 7 and up) reader as a bedtime story. It's up there with The Hobbit for something adults can enjoy without being bored, while never talking down to the kids it's written for. I can see why people rave about this book, now. It's delightful.

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  1. Seanan actually said she read the 'I am not a toy.' line on a train on the way to work and freaked out. Wonderful book this one is. Instant classic.

    1. I rather liked it, and I know a lot of other people did, and I can't imagine kids not liking it, so, yeah. "Instant classic" is fitting.