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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Amazon | Goodreads
Fantasy, 247 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Feiwel & Friends
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.

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, Saturday  September (god, I keep doing that...) was a very rootforable character, fierce, loyal, smart and charming.  Everything you want in such a book.  And it's a judicious telling in that it leaves you wanting more.  There is so much going on in the background of things, so many characters and events that you know are bursting with stories, that you find yourself wanting to read those stories, too.  You want to know more, to see it and meet them and all of the little things that are hinted at, which is the best feeling when reading. The cast of characters she meets hold their own, with their fun stories and unique histories.  There were so many memorable characters and so many potential side-stories that part of me wishes for and entire Encyclopedia of Fairyland, so that all their stories and histories will be at my fingertips on any given rainy afternoon.  The journey September and her friends undergo is entertaining and interesting, and very visual.  (I want so badly to witness the Running of the Velocipedes, which is just about the most brilliant piece of nonsense I've ever heard.)  It's all odd, most likely crazy, and thoroughly charming.

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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17 comments:

  1. I actually came to it the other way around -- was already a big fan of the mucisian, SJ Tucker, when she did the song for the trailer, and found out about the book that way!

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  2. I'm not sure what it is but there is something special about the cover of this book that makes me want to read it. I actually checked it out from the library but didn't get a chance to read it before the due date.

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  3. This sounds so amazing, love fairytale and modern day retellings

    I want to read this

    Amanda

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  4. I seen/heard you talk about this book so much and am super intrigued to read now!! This sounds so fun!! x

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  5. There really is something for everyone in this book. I really enjoyed this one and the short prequel.

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  6. This is definitely in the vain of Alice in Wonderland. Everything makes sense, but you have no idea why.

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  7. You had me hooked at "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."

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  8. This book seems so interesting! I really like the names she choose (September & Saturday?), very cool!

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  9. Oh my word. ANY book that promises such a wealth of fully realized secondary characters that the reviewer demands an accompanying story encyclopedia is the right book for me. YES PLEASE.

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  10. I keep wasting my time of boring books and not reading books like these. When will I learn.

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  11. Not usually my type of book but loved to try

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  12. I'm going to have to check it out! Hope I can find it in our small area. If not, gotta love Amazon.

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  13. I haven't even read the series yet but if there really was "The Encyclopedia of Fairyland" available-I'd be ALL over that, lol. also I totally agree, when there are darker elements within a novel it makes the more fanciful elements all the more meaningful and poetic :)

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  14. the fact that you compare Valente to Carroll is just fantastic because I *adore* his writing! I love some good nonsense myself. it's liberating.

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  15. The nonsense parts of the book were so much fun! I read this in September and really enjoyed it.

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