A Review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland #1), by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)

Goodreads Rating: 3.97 Stars
247 Pages
Feiwel & Friends Publishing
Get a copy here!

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.

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Quick Reasons: lyrical, beautiful prose; TONS of character growth and wise-reaching moments; the whimsy in this read is FANTASTIC; the characters are well-rounded and entertaining; the plot is action-packed and fast; there was one huge plot-twist I didn’t see coming; overall, plot twists were not an integral part of this read; the descriptions are poetic and easy-to-imagine


I mean, seriously—this book is packed with vibrant prose, creativity, and lyrical wisdom patched to readers in subtle, small moments. Overall, this was exactly my kind of book—and now I’m wondering why it took me so long to get to it!

But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.

I have nine highlighted sections in this book. Which, for me, is a fair number—I usually only find one or two (three, at most) moments that REALLY stand out to me as “quotable.” This book, on the other hand, I found such moments practically on every other page. The prose is lyrical, poetic, and absolutely beautiful. It seeps from the pages, into the readers’ pores, to burrow and spread like fungus. It sweeps readers out of their personal realities and into a world far-away and much-different—into a world where dreams come true and adventures are found on the wind. Of course, if you’re not a reader who appreciates or likes poetic reads, this book probably isn’t the best choice for you—there is a LOT of abstract language and open-ended descriptions to be found.

There are also a great many “wise” moments hidden within the poetry. There are moments when the narrator, semi-unreliable as it is, breaks off from the story to shove a moral into readers’ faces at full-speed. These were the moments I most appreciated the narrator—when the story stopped, just for a moment, to tear back the fourth-wall and remind me that I WAS reading, not actually living the story. And despite the wisdom to be found, there’s also a ton of snark and sarcasm coming into play. Little things introduced in the very beginning are brought back pages or chapters later. Catherynne M. Valente put her heart and soul into weaving this tapestry of a story together, and she did it with a sort of fairy tale-esque, whimsically delightful poignancy.

“That’s what a map is, you know. Just a memory. Just a wish to go back home— someday, somehow.”

The characters are well-rounded and complex, always breathing in and shaping up the ways they view the world or tackle their battles. There were a few “plot-twist” moments, but for the most part, this relied more heavily upon a thriving and artful imagination to drive the plot, not on things leaping out at readers to startle or take by surprise. There was really only ONE moment that caught me off-guard—a key point made pretty early on in the read brought back in one sweeping, sort of half-whispered moment of “hey, remember me?”

“This is for washing your wishes, September,” said Lye, breaking off another of her fingers with a thick snap. “For the wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to remember to catch the world in its changing and change with it.”

This book is filled with whimsy, magic, and wisdom. I recommend to lovers of mid-grade novels, coming-of-age tales, and those with a stomach for poetically beautiful prose. If you don’t mind a story that sweeps you out of reality and plops you into a wholly new and as yet-unexplored world, this is definitely the read for you! I can’t wait to jump into the second book of this series; I have a feeling there’s many more surprises yet in store for me.