Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
Posted on January 8, 2014
Publisher of this 1st edition hard cover: Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, New York 2011.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I bought this book as a gift for my very young nieces, only to realise that I had misjudged the appropriate readership by about six years. So, I decided to read it myself, and I loved it. It’s brimming with the same lush imagery and sensual delights that one finds in Valente’s adult novels, amidst all the Fairyland glimmer, glamour, and ghastliness specific to this children’s tale.
In both Valente’s adult novels and this one, her imagined worlds are equal parts terrifying and beautiful, with access to them inevitably coming at a high price, for which there is no cheap substitute. Of course, the price of the reader’s admission is only the book itself, but Valente’s heroines often pay in blood and anguish and personal sacrifice. Yet, pay they do, because go they must!
As with her adult novels, I am captivated by the longing of Valente’s characters. In her books, people do not simply want something; they yearn for it: a place, person, or thing, without which their lives will be rendered utterly meaningless. No matter the hardship which must be endured, relinquishing their quest can only lead to devastation, and so on they march, being ravaged and savaged along the way, often barely surviving. The single burning flame of such a focused and relentless need fascinates me and can keep me reading for hours at a time. This book, probably due to its being a children’s story, did not have quite the same hold on me as Palimpsest, but there was a shadow of it nonetheless.
Valente refines her heroines by fire. Young September, our twelve-year-old protagonist, is forced to face overwhelming dilemmas as she journeys through Fairyland on a noble quest to save her friends. As with all fairy tales, she encounters both new friends and deadly foes along the way and often must make choices between the Definitely Terrible and the Possibly Even Worse. But she comes through a true heroine indeed: loyal and clever and brave and strong of heart.