the Little Red Reviewer

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Posted on: December 11, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente

Published May 2011

Where I got it: the library






What can I say, I love everything Catherynne Valente writes. Every story, every myth, every character, every metaphor she touches, they all turn to golden quicksilver – slippery words that swim towards each other to create something so very true and very magicial.  If you still haven’t read her – if Deathless looks a little too heavy or dark, if The Habitation of the Blessed looks a bit too intense, if you’re simply not quite sure about this strange woman that I refuse to stop talking about, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making is a perfect place to start.  Why? Because this is a young adult book. Although adults will joyously zip through it, smiling at the adventures found by a girl named September, and wiping away a tear when she finds what she’s looking for.  It’s part Alice in Wonderland, part Wizard of Oz, part hero’s quest story and part growing up story, part losing something and finding something, it’s all the pieces that grow up to become the person we’d all like to be.

Young September has the kind of childhood many of us will recognize – a boring one. She craves adventure and gets to wash dishes instead. She misses her father, and he’s a continent away, fighting a war she doesn’t understand. When the Green Wind appears at her window and asks if she’d like to accompany him to Fairyland, September doesn’t even think about it. She just goes.  Fairyland is as wonderful and as amazing as she’d always hoped. But it’s also frightening, confusing, and slightly feral.

Very lucky younger children will have parents who read this book to them, one delicious chapter at a time, at bedtime.  Those children will dream the most magnificent dreams, and their school teachers may bring up their strange school drawings at parent-teacher conferences. Even luckier children will read this book back to their parents, not understanding why their parents are laughing their heads off at the oddest moments. Those parents will dream the most magnificent dreams, waking wistful, yet satisfied in a rather kaleidoscopic way.

But odd things are afoot in Fairyland, and although everything seems to make a strange sort of sense, no one seems to be able to explain what’s going on to September.  Apparently the rules here are very strict, any most residents are simply petrified of The Marquess, who rules with an iron fist and a really impressive hat.  With the help of a Wiverary, a golem a marid and others, perhaps she won’t have to lose anything after all.

But first, I must tell you about Saturday. A quiet and thoughful child, he is a Marid. A little bit like Genies (but not really), if you play your cards right a Marid will grant your wish, but only if you really mean to get what you want, and are willing to hurt someone to get it. The life of a Marid is not exactly linear, like those of humans.  They meet their children first, and spend years looking for the mate who already helped create those children.  It’s alluringly romantic and at the same time unexpectedly honest.

September knows who her friends are, but what exactly is she supposed to be doing in Fairyland? Tasked with stealing a spoon (which is of course, more complicated than it sounds), she can barely figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and who will punish her should she break one of a zillion strange fairyland rules?  Really funny how that sounds a lot like being a grown up, trying to navigate life. At least September was born on a Tuesday.

Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed had me wanting to be reincarnated as a tree (not exactly a new thought for me), and now, suddenly, I wish to change my plans and request reincarnation as a Marid. A wish more suited to be granted by a Genie, as I don’t think I could bear to have it granted by a Marid.

Recently chosen by NPR as a Top Five Book for the 9+ age group, I’m not the only one singing this book’s praises.  If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m NOT a YA reader. I prefer darker, denser, more mature storylines.  If you’re a grown up and you read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, remember what I said about it being a kaleidoscopic experience.

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19 Responses to "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making"

I enjoyed this book. I am looking forward to the sequel!


I knew there was a prequel, but I had no idea there was going to be a sequel! I want to know what happens later, with September and Saturday, especially. Do you know when the 2nd one is supposed to come out?


This book is going on my to-read list. It sounds wonderful!


I do hope you read it, I think you will get a kick out of it! :D


I’m so glad you’ve read and enjoyed Fairyland. I’m been recommending this to anyone who will listen. It is hands down the best thing I’ve read this year. There was a prequel short story up online earlier. I linked to it from my blog. Cat has done a sequel, and I believe she offered an ARC of it for auction as part of the Magic4Terri appeal.


It was very cute, and I did enjoy it, although I’ve enjoyed Valente’s adult, darker books better. In fact, she’s the only author who made my best of 2011 list (posting in a couple days) twice.


I’ll check out your review after I get around to reading this book this month. It’s this month’s book club pick, so I’ll definitely be reading the book soon. :)


Shara, YOU are one of the reasons I read this! I knew it was your Dec book, but I wasn’t sure of the timing. . . and I got to the top of the hold list at the library, and the book looked so adorable that I couldn’t help but start reading it as soon as I got my hands on it. So I kinda jumped the gun.

I’m looking forward to your review, and everyone else’s discussions as well.


I hadn’t ever heard of Catherynne Valente before, but you’ve totally convinced me. The book you’ve described sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the recommendation. If the book is half as good as the title, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it very much.


Please do give it a try, and let us know what you think! She’s one of my favorite writers, and Fairyland is a good place to start.


This is pretty much where I had already decided to go next with my Valente reading. The only other book I’ve read by her is her poetry collection, A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects, and it was a satisfying but very difficult read. I think this will be a good place for me to go next simply so I don’t find myself deciding that her works are too much work. LOL!


this is quite the opposite of “too much work”. Have you read Mieville’s Un Lun Dun? It reads a teensy weensy bit like that, but far more satire.


I started reading Un Lun Dun but got so frustrated with moments of brilliant writing followed immediately by poor sentence structure and poor writing (all my opinion of course) that I quickly gave up and sold my hardback on ebay.


you had a hardback of Un Lun Dun and you gave it up??? poor writing? were we reading the same book?


One of these days I’ll have to pull it out again and see what was bothering me so much. I only know that I read a good 50 pages or so and although this is obviously hyperbole, it felt like every other paragraph was brilliant alternating with one with odd/poor sentence structure or was just not very well written. As things go, I could possibly pick it up again and think “what was I thinking?!?!” That certainly happened with me with Fellowship of the Ring this year. My first experience with the book was that the first third of it was a bit of a mess. Then I read it this time and the difference was almost akin to hearing angels singing. I soaked up every word.


I’ve linked this blog to several friends now, because this is an author who sounds right up all of our respective alleys and none of us had come across her before! Thanks for this, a massive book shopping spree is now in order for at least three or four of us. I don’t know how easy it’ll be to find her books in Ireland but we’re going to do our damnedest to find them. Thanks for this post!


She should be available on Amazon UK, or any large bookstore. If you know you’re going to be visiting smaller bookstores, call ahead, see what they have of hers. I’m sure they’ll be willing to hold it for you and your friends for a few hours. I’ve a few other Valente reviews as well, in the review index up top.


[…] The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Feiwel and Friends) Planesrunner, Ian McDonald (Pyr) Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor (Viking) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs (Quirk) Goliath, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK) […]


[…] you enjoyed the first fairyland book (read my review here), The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is a must read.  And again, because […]


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