The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValentePublished May, 10 2011 by Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan247 pages Purchased

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Reviewer: MeganRating: ♥♥♥♥


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. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING drew me in for more reasons than just the very long title (a title which will not be used again in this review for fear of carpal tunnel rearing its ugly head). It drew me in with the promises of delicious prose, imaginative adventures, a curious heroine, and a fully realized world of the bizarre and unusual. And also the gorgeous cover which insisted I purchase this book when it first came out in paperback. It took me a few months to read this book, thanks to my desire to read it close to its equally lengthily named sequel, but what I found when I cracked open its pages was everything the cover copy promised – and then some.

September is quite the interesting heroine, and exactly the type of character I love to see in middle grade stories (except by chance the fact she came off to me as being younger than 12). I am a sucker for curious and inquisitive heroines, and September was just that. The story revolves around her adventures in the strange world of Fairyland, filled with wyverns, living bicycles, sentient housewares, and a host of mythical beasts. Being a traveler myself (I lived in Japan, a country that itself is strange and mythical), I strongly connected with September and her adventures.

But it was the prose that drew me in the most. Even though it seemed directed more at adults wishing to read stories like you find in middle grade stories (or, as I told a friend, adults who wanted to read Harry Potter but found the prose too mundane), it appealed to me. Maybe an actual 12 year old would be confused at parts, but it is the type of book you will hand to a child to incite their curiosity and desire to learn.

“When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. That does not mean it IS brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet, kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on.”

This is the type of quote they should print on the front covers of hipster travel journals where you can record all of your adventures. The prose in this story is sumptuous, but at times the meandering of tenses – the narrator is its own character, switching from third person to first person within paragraphs to describe the world or a scene – creates a muddled story at times. Luckily this is a rare phenomenon, but having two chapters devoted to the progress of a sentient key? Probably a bit unnecessary. But by the ending, with a slightly Greek mythological twist (not telling you which myth or else I’d spoil it), I was hooked and wanted to dive into book two.

As I said before, this entire story read like something that an adult would like in a middle grade story. Maybe that is why I liked it. Rarely am I a fan of MG books for some reason – it takes a specific kind of book, and it’s like me and yogurt, where I try every flavor and brand to find the one I like. Except with yogurt, I never found one I liked besides frozen, but I am always trying. This book (along with WONDER by RJ Palacio) are slowly beginning to win me over to the MG cause, to the point where I have requested and purchased a few more MG books than I have in the past.

While there were some issues with this one, namely the meandering narrative style and occasional moments of boredom, THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND was exactly what I imagined it would be – a deliciously written, wise tale about a girl lost in a world so unlike ours. This book will not be for everyone, but for fans of Harry Potter who wanted a slightly more literary take on a MG fantasy, this book will be the treat you were demanding. It’s intelligent and witty, strong and wise, bold and creative. If you can get over the initial hills, this book will be one you will cherish for years to come.

VERDICT: Although initially hurt by a strange narrative scheme, THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND’s appeal rests strongly on its laurels as a well-written, extremely creative middle grade fantasy for adults who want to read middle grade fantasies. Check this one out.