The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingTwelve-year-old September is a courageous girl, one willing to fly off on an adventure when the Green Wind (taking the form of a little man in a green jacket) invites her to come with him. They fly to Fairyland, where times are hard under the rule of the new Marquess. At first, September thinks she'll be on a magical lark, exploring Fairyland. But she soon discovers that her help is needed to retrieve a witch's wooden spoon, and she volunteers to set off on a quest. Along the way, September makes new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
by Catherynne M. Valente
NY: Feiwel and Friends, 2011
ages 10 - 13
available at your local library, my favorite bookstore, and online at Google Books
Valente has created a magical, imaginative land with inventive creatures. But I never felt completely wrapped up in the story. I admired September, but found it difficult to care deeply about her or her quest. She accepted her mission in an almost off-hand way, but got drawn in as she realized how capricious the Marquess was. Along the way she met many characters that I'll remember - a golem made of soap, stampeding herd of flying Victorian high-wheel bicycles, and a brave paper lantern. The chapters had a bit of a disconnected feel, almost as if I could sense the way that it was written and published in a serialized form. But this reminds me of The Phantom Tollbooth in many ways, as Milo explored the different worlds he encountered.
Unfortunately, September's story never resonated with me; I never emotionally connected with her the way I did with Milo. I admired her pluck and courage, the way she encountered these fantastical creatures with a completely open mind, and especially her choices at the end of the novel. And yet, she seemed distant throughout, somehow.
I enjoyed Valente's language and kept marking sentences that felt meaningful. But I do think the language got in the way of the story and the characters. I spent more time noticing Valente's writing than I did getting emotionally involved. While I appreciate unique, thoughtful writing, I know that most children need a compelling story to bring them through a book.
As Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 has clearly said, this is a book that will generate a lot of controversy this year. Some folks clearly love it. And yet, it is definitely not a book for everyone. I look forward to sharing it with students this fall and getting some children's reactions.
Thank you to the publishers, Feiwel & Friends and MacMillan, and for sending the review copy.
Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.