Amazing Journey – “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making” by Catherynne M. Valente
Do you remember the first time you read The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, or Harry Potter, or The Hobbit, or any piece of literary fantasy fiction that may have forever impacted your childhood/young adulthood? I remember the first time I read all of the above, and now and forever would like to add the first time I read Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making” to the list.
This marvelous piece of fiction, which apparently caused a stir when the author first posted it online, has been praised by everyone from Neil Gaiman to Publisher’s Weekly, and even spent some time on the children’s version of the New York Times Bestseller list. For good reason, it’s unbelievably charming.
Our twelve-year-old heroine, September, is sullenly washing dishes one day in her home in Nebraska when a dapper Green Wind comes to bring her on a quest. She’s needed, you see, because Fairyland has been taken over by a villainous Marquess. Whisked off through the air to this magical new realm, September embarks on a journey that combines elements of Narnia and Tolkien with Gaiman and Hogwarts in a kind of quasi-Victorian adventure story Lewis Carroll would probably be mighty proud of and that Madeleine L’Engle would approve of.
Along her way, September meets a host of friends and characters – from a dragon who’s really half a library (A through L) to an affectionate, caring lantern. There are witches and panthers and a boy named Saturday, too, adding to the glorious mischief of the story. Perhaps most adorably, there’s a persistent Key that’s following September, even though she’s way ahead of it. It’s a huge testament to Valente’s talent that the key is an endearing character who’s final appearance makes one want to cheer. None of these characters are simple; September herself is a little petulant at times and the Marquess never appears entirely good or bad.
Much like my beloved, “Harry Potter” books, this is a book for children written as if the writer admires children, and therefore doesn’t feel the need to talk down to them. Bad things happen to nice characters, and nothing cut and dry and easily explained.
It’s so good – and its in stores now. (The book hit shelves on 5/10/2011.) Get a copy and get whisked away on a journey like the best parts of the books you love, but really like nothing you’ve never experienced before.