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Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne Valente

I'm going to start this review with an appeal to you, reader. Please do not just give "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" by Catherynne M. Valente to a child. Please share it with them! My sincere hope for this book would be that you and the child in your life enjoy this magical fairytale together. Preferably on a stolen day in the springtime, a day that was meant to be spent at work or school or anywhere else but you spend it doing something better. On a stolen day I feel like I've escaped from life's tedium, and to spend it with a book (especially this book shared with a kid on their own stolen day) is to add fantasy to an ordinary life.

"The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland" is the story a September, a young girl who is spirited away to Fairyland just after her twelfth birthday. I really don't want to divulge too much of the plot, but I will tell you that there is a wicked Marquess, a romantic Green Wind, and a Wyvern (a dragonlike creature) who claims that his father is a library. There are, of course, battles and tricks and lies but there is also great courage and kindness as September travels throughout fairyland.

I simply adore this book. The language is fantastic. This is Valente's first book for children, but she hasn't miniaturized her vocabulary. For instance, September is described in the beginning as "an ill-tempered and irascible child." What I kept coming back to while reading it was that I haven't read a children's book like this since I read "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" - Valente is definitely harkening back to Lewis Carroll here in a big way and the results are amazing. Note this passage in which a cat named Iago is speaking to September:
I wouldn't even consider it if I were you. But then if I were you, I would not be me, and if I were not me, I would not be able to advise you, and if I were unable to advise you, you'd do as you like, so you might as well do as you like and have done with it.

The story has both the heart and feel of Alice in Wonderland and shares Alice's appeal to adult readers, but it is certainly not derivative of Carroll's works. It speaks to them as a modern relative. The language and vocabulary will not make for simple reading, but kids will definitely find this book rewarding. I will repeat myself here and say that this is a book to be shared - to be read aloud and discussed. Not picked apart but reveled in.

On an adult level, this book for kids felt a lot like a coming of age novel. The end of the book deals very heavily with growing up, spoiled childhoods, and the idealization of childhood and innocence. My reading it just happened to coincide with the coming birth of my brother's first child and my realization that my own childhood is effectively over (yeah, I'm 25, I probably should have come to that realization sooner). The reason I point this out is to say that "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland" is a book for all ages. It caused me to both lose myself in the fairytale and later to ruminate over the way in which I approach my life.

You should definitely read this book, but first watch this totally creepy and awesome trailer that showcases the illustrations by Ana Juan:

Advance Reading Copy reviewed from Feiwel and Friends

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