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Fantasy, 247 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Feiwel & Friends
I don't know if you recall my oohing and ahhing and general freaking-outing over the trailer for this book when it popped up last year. For realsies, I lost my mind over it. I still sometimes just watch it on repeat until I've had my fill of the quirky, artistic gloriously creative fantasticness that is this trailer (and the song!!). It put this book high on my wishlist, and when I got a copy in the mail from someone awesome, it was really hard not to tear into it right then. I knew I wanted to cover it for Fairy Tale Fortnight, but I also knew that if I read it too early, I wouldn't remember enough to write a real review. [Of course, you're asking yourself at this point why I wouldn't just write the review when I finished the book, and then just save it for FTF. To which I say, Have you met me? Hi, I'm Procrastinator. Nice to meet you.]
So. Last month it finally came time to read this, and now all I want to do is kick myself for not having read it sooner. Even if it meant that my review would have been crap, and even if it meant that the wait for The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There would have been even more cruel. At least I would have lived with this glorious little story in my head for that much longer. This is - this book is a feat of utter nonsense. I hope you take this the way I mean it, because it is SUCH A HUGE COMPLIMENT. I like a good dose of nonsense. But there are very few authors that can really handle it. Sure, some can add dashes of nonsense to liven things up, and some can make you think they are doing nonsense when really it's just dressed-up tomfoolery. But to truly do nonsense well, to make a meal of it and have the reader asking for seconds - that takes real skill.
Don't believe me? Go ahead and name some excellent, memorable nonsense. The list is a pretty short one. You've got your Seusses and your Silversteins, your Carrolls and occasionally, when we're feeling inclusive, your Snickets. And now, ruling at their sides as Queen of the Nonsense, you've got Catherynne M. Valente. Long may she reign.
Seriously, though. The closest I can compare it to is a modern version of Lewis Carroll, a sort of grown-up nonsense that really isn't nonsense at all. Everything has a little quirk to it; Valente approaches her world slantwise, looking at everything with the fresh, why-the-hell-can't-it-be-this-way perspective that we usually lose far too early in life. Everything's magic. Everything's fanciful. Everything's wondrous. But this does not mean everything is light or fluffy. Much of it is very dark, and very rooted in reality and sorrow, which is what makes the brightness shine so. There's such beautiful contrast, and having that deeper, darker base makes all of the nonsense and silliness seem much more real and true. It's this that makes the book brilliant. Valente has a talent for wrapping up real truths and bittersweet emotions in these strange little gems of fancy. They sometimes burst upon you unexpectedly like a punch to the gut; other times they seep into you so that you half-understand their import before you even realize there's something important there. This is the best kind of nonsense there is.
Setting aside my praise of nonsense and bittersweet fairytale-ness,
Perhaps best of all, is that it has great cross-over potential across the board. There is really something in the story for everyone, and it works on all levels - a book you can read at different stages in your life and draw something different from it each time. This is the hallmark of a classic, and I have a feeling that like Seuss and Silverstein and Carrol and Baum, Valente's is a name we're going to remember. Very impressive.
(Oh, and now that I've read the book, I like the song from the trailer EVEN MORE. I didn't think that was possible, but it's so perfect!)
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