September is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one 12-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.
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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a really excellent fantasy for everyone who still has a child within. The narration (by the author) is perfect and adds much to the experience. Although not as good as Through the Looking Glass, it is pretty darn good. I enjoyed the characters, the subtle humor and lyric prose. Although slightly dark the spirit is bright and comforting. I wish my daughter was eight years old again. This would make a nice continuing bed time story.
The most charming book I have read since childhood
"All children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown."
This book is every fairy tale and children's story and sad and happy and thrilling and scary Disney movie you ever saw, back when you were young enough for Disney movies to be taken at face value and you hadn't learned how to be cynical yet. Catherynne Valente writes with beautiful fairy tale prose that still sounds contemporary, and she balances the zaniness and fantasy of a down-the-rabbit-hole adventure with the darkness of true fairy tales and the lurking shadow of adulthood that only the finest children's authors can blend into a children's story without turning it either absurd or rendering it into something clever, something maybe even fun but not quite timeless. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a story that should become immortal. It should join Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Narnia and yes, Harry Potter on the shelf of books for Every Child in the World.
I don't read much YA, and I read very little MG fiction, but this book won my heart and turned me into that 10-year-old who knew he was reading something wonderful again. If you have kids, read this to them, and if you don't, read it for yourself, because it's clever and subtle enough that even adults will find their hearts touched.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making begins with an ordinary 12-year-old girl named September who is taken by the Green Wind to Fairyland. It's so sudden and arbitrary it takes you a while to realize that Valente is very deliberately telling you right up front: "Yes, this is one of those stories where a child gets whooshed off to a magical world, and I'm not even going to bother making up a warddrobe or a tornado or a letter from Hogwarts to justify it." No, the Green Wind, wearing green jodphurs and with gold-green hair, just up and carries her away. On a leopard.
September, who is an ordinary girl with ordinary levels of intelligence, bravery, compassion, and maturity, then has Adventures. She makes friends. She is scared. She gets hurt. She is betrayed. And she discovers why she was brought to Fairyland. At every step, Valente shows a conscientious awareness of all the stories she is paying homage to -- sometimes she winks at them slyly, sometimes she practically dances them across the page complete with ruby slippers -- but this isn't a rip-off or a copy or a retelling, it's a new story. And September is awesome.
I swear that every child who has ever loved a book, and every adult who has ever been a child who loved a book, will enjoy this.
Cathrynne Valente's narration isn't exactly professional caliber compared to the professionals who narrate most audiobooks, but she does of course know all the places to put emphasis and all the emotions each line is supposed to invoke and she conveys them well, so listening to the author read her own book is, in this case, not a bad experience at all.