The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Let me begin by saying that Catherynne M. Valente understands Tweens.
Many middle grade authors underestimate the fortitude and depth of older children and choose to write adventures for them that are relatively safe, bloodless, superficial, and irritatingly wholesome. Tweens are none of these things. Tweens are the most vulnerable, primal, and honestly human people on Earth. They are wounded so very easily and yet, they can be just as cruel as they can be kind. These older children understand so much more about the world than most adults give them credit for. So, why do many authors overly sugar coat their stories with near-misses, and the suffocating veil of puritanism in an unnecessary attempt to protect the psyches of 10 to 14 year old readers?
Tweens can handle a meatier story. They can bear a little blood.
Catherynne M. Valente's novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a tween novel with backbone. Have your dictionary handy kids, because Valente doesn't shy away from using high-level vocabulary words that even grown-ups may need to look up. She also doesn't shy away from writing a story that realistically shows the cruelty and violence of conflict while granting her readers the joy and magical fantasy of a true fairy-tale. There is blood. There is violence. There is even a tiny bit of chaste nudity. However, even though this novel is not in anyway a fluffy, safe, and predictable tale- it is still completely suitable for tweens (as well as teens and adults who still possess their imaginations.)
Remember Alice and her plummet down a Rabbit Hole? Dorothy and her enchanted twister-ride over a rainbow? Lucy and her stumble through a wardrobe? Those girls have nothing on September, the Heroine in Valente's tale.
September, a regular 12 year old girl from Omaha, Nebraska, is offered a chance to visit Fairyland by a handsome Green Wind and his flying Leopard. Of her own accord, she accepts and is "Ravished" away. When she arrives, Fairyland is in peril because a terrible Marquess has murdered their queen and seized control. This Marquess has denied Fairyland its true nature and forces the fairy world to behave in a mundane, unfairylike manner.
September finds herself on a quest in which she meets wonderful friends, perilous dangers, and has to collect enchanted objects in order to set things right. While that sounds like the usual way of a quest- there is a difference. September chooses her quest. From the very beginning, September chooses the difficult path over the easy one. She doesn't complain or incessantly whine about wanting to return home. She isn't helpless. She is a fierce, flawed, and forthright tween who doesn't flinch in the face of adventure and adversity. With the company of a Wyvern, a Marid, and a Tsukumogami (and yes, I had to look up two of those words when I read the book), she makes her way through Fairyland until she ultimately has to face the Marquess.
The glorious thing about this novel is that it is part of a series! I add this tome to my list of favorite books, an honor I do not readily offer. It sits in excellent company amongst titles like Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Do yourself the grandest of favors and check this book out from your library, or buy it from your local bookstore. You will thank me for the recommendation.
Ages 10 (if a strong reader) and up.
Visit this link to read the prequel to the story:
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland for a Little While