Monday, September 19, 2011

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

One of my favorite reading experiences this summer was actually not a reading experience at all. While I was pulling vintage 1980s wallpaper off the walls of what is now my new music room, I listened to the audiobook of Catherynne  M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Here's what you should know: everything about this book is remarkably endearing.

One day, a young girl named September finds herself whisked away from Omaha and into Fairyland by the Green Wind. What follows is a quest story that is full of so many unexpected and marvelous twists and turns that I hardly noticed my messy wallpaper task at all. I was completely caught up in September's new world.

Words that pop into my mind are: delightful, wonderful, joyful. But these words can be saccharine and aren't what I mean to say at all. Valente's book is filled with delight and wonder and joy in the old-fashioned, hushed sense of the words. Like a walk through the woods when the sun is slanted just right through the trees and that odd noise could be a deer, or a trick of the wind, or the strange laughter and music of an honest-to-goodness fairy circle.

Valente's Fairyland is fantasy, but it has more in common with old-fashioned Faerie stories or Tolkien than it does with the modern fantasy stories of Harry Potter and the like. It is surprising and challenging and very, very strange. Valente manages to create a sense of wonder that feels like it's from another time, and yet September is so relevant, so likable, droll, and modern, I'm certain kids of all ages and times will be able to relate.

Apparently, there are plenty of people out there who did not like this book. Well, that's why there's something for everyone, I guess. (For more on this, you can read the effervescent Betsy Bird's review and discussion of the divisive nature of Fairyland at her School Library Journal blog.) As for me, this goes into my 5-star top-ten for the year category. Hands down.

Also posted at Please Come Flying.