I don’t even know what more I can say beyond that sentence. Obviously, I can (and will) elaborate and explain why I love this book, but the single most important fact of this review/rambling is that first sentence. That, and that I love Catherynne M. Valente, but we already knew that.
September lives in Omaha, Nebraska and has become exceedingly bored with her current life. Furthermore, she’s lonely; her father’s off in the war and her mother works at the factory all day. When the Green Wind appears at her window, asking if she would like to come to Fairyland, September doesn’t have to think twice before she says yes. And so begins her adventure in the world of Fairyland where she meets extraordinary people, visits amazing and potentially dangerous places, and undertakes a quest to retrieve an item for the Marquess, the childish, greedy ruler of Fairyland.
First off, the writing is pure joy to read. It’s honest, clever, and imaginative, all at once. The book is written in the style of traditional children’s stories like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland and it’s so full of life and spirit. I know it’s been said before by multitudes of people, but the best children’s stories are written by those who are still partially children themselves, those who have never forgotten how children think and how children logic works (which, in many ways, makes much more sense than adult logic). Most important though is to see the world as children see it, and see it for the gloriously strange place it is. For some silly, stupid reason, a sense of wonder is equated with children and childishness. Adults can’t be too astounded by something strange or unusual that they’ve just seen, otherwise they will be considered naïve. I won’t say this book made me feel like I was a child again, but it definitely reawakened my sense of wonder. I wanted the Green Wind to come for me so I could go on magical adventures too. After finishing this book, I felt like anything could happen, and that is what the best fantasy, or even the best books do: open up possibilities and allow us to dream things we wouldn’t have dared to before.
September is old enough to realize that the world contains dangers and disappointments, but young enough to believe in magic and fairies, and leave home without a second thought to travel to Fairyland. What she wants is to be the protagonist in her own tale, and she definitely is that. She’s inquisitive, smart, resourceful, brave, and she’s quite a hand at fixing things and figuring out how they work. In short, she is the most awesome person ever. She would have been my hero when I was her age. Hell, I’d consider her to be so now! Similarly awesome is A-through-L, the wyverary (half-wyvern, half-library) who knows everything about everything, so long as it begins with any of the letters A through L. Even the Marquess, who’s ostensibly the villain, gets her moment to shine in the end. There are no black-and-white characters, situations, or solutions to anything in this book, and, especially in a children’s book, it makes the story all the better.
As expected, there’s some thought given to fairy tales and quests and what one must do when one knows they’re in a fairytale, and the confusion that sets in when things don’t follow the path that’s expected. In case I haven’t made this clear before, I absolutely love meta-stories. They’re one of my favorite things ever and I will glom a book even more so if it contains that element.
Also, Fairyland is such a wonderfully creative world packed with all sorts of creatures, beasts, and creations, such as a soap golem, a heard of wild bicycles, and so much else that I don’t want to say here because I worry about spoiling too much of the awesomeness. Still, Fairyland has its troubles, and Catherynne M. Valente even manages to sneak a few tidbits in about topics such as cultural appropriation, bureaucracy, and how governments work. Even so, Fairyland is written with wonderment and a sense of adventure, but it’s also written with fun. It’s clear throughout that Catherynne M. Valente had a lot of fun thinking up Fairyland and putting all the pieces together. When I went to her author event, she said that she could write Fairyland books forever, and I fervently hope she does.
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of the best books I have read all year. There is practically nothing that I dislike about it. It’s hard for me to be objective and stand back to analyze or pick apart the book. Instead, I simply feel so much love for it, and I urge everyone else who reads it to feel, rather than think and analyze. Remember when you were a child and stories were some of the most magical things in the world that made you feel like you could do anything? This book is why.