The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Posted December 11, 2011on:
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.