As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

August 8, 2011

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne M Valente, 2011


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingTwelve-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. (Amazon)

Review by Steve Diamond, host of Elitist Book Reviews

This was my first foray into the works of Cathrynne M. Valente. It seems like whenever I would turn around someone (usually our resident reviewer, Shawn) would be saying how incredible a storyteller and writer Valente is. A guy like me can only take so much of that kind of hype before he gives in. Unfortunately reading an author's work based off that kind hype can also lead to letdowns--it has happened to me more times than I can count. I was worried. Luckily for me (and for all you discerning readers out there), it seems that everything people are saying about Valente is true. She is amazing.

With THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING (originally an online-only work), I knew within two pages that I was going to love the book. It's just one of those things, and I know that other people have experienced this just like I have. With THE GIRL WHO..., I automatically felt like I was reading a comfortable, classic fairytale. I was reminded of Grim's Fairytales, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland all at once.

THE GIRL WHO... is about a twelve year-old girl named September who is whisked away to Fairyland. Her initial quest is to retrieve a witch's spoon from Fairyland's new dictator, the Marquess. As the story progresses, however, September questions what kind of fairytale she is actually in. She questions what part she is actually playing in the story.

I'll be honest here, I feel completely inadequate even attempting to explain how amazing of a writer Valente is. After the first page, I wanted to read this book aloud--just the style of if makes me want to rush out and buy an audio version. Not only does Valente's writing make 95% of the other authors in the world seem downright average, but the voice she gives to the narrator of the story is absolutely perfect. I am still a bit stunned by just the way the novel was told, and by how clever the writing is in THE GIRL WHO... She can switch effortlessly from whimsical to disturbing. This Fairyland isn't all gumdrops and kisses. It has that Grim's Fairy Tales dark undercurrent.

And the thing is, this is supposedly a YA novel.

If THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING really is YA, it is probably the most well written YA novel ever, and probably the best YA novel I have ever read. I personally felt like this was an adult novel hiding behind the best YA disguise ever created. And really, doesn't that kind of appeal make this novel even better? This is a novel that instantly makes you want to curl up in your favorite chair, drink some hot chocolate, and completely lose yourself.

I wish more than anything that I could talk about the ending of this story. I think it is the ending that really shows Valente's skill for writing. This isn't just a fairytale. It is so much more than that. Treat yourself to a hardcover copy of THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, and put it right next to those classic works of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum.

Will I read another novel by Valente? Yes. All of them.

Market: Young Adult...kinda.  Adult...kinda.  Everyone should read it.
Language: None
Violence: True fairy tales have some grim and disturbing stuff in them. Valente's fairytale is no different
Sensuality: None
Mature Themes: Self-acceptance, running away, abandonment

Book formats:

9 comments:

Kim said...

I am telling you, I am DYING to read this book!!! It looks absolutely extraordinary. Has everyone seen the book trailer? If not, you must. It's so whimsical.

Thank you for this terrific review, Steve!

Mercy said...

I came here via Twitter (Jessica Day George tweeted the link), and I'm 14, therefore the target audience for this book you think isn't exactly young adult. This sounds like a great book, and I will definitely read it. However, I'm kind of disappointed in your review, particularly the attitude which you seem to regard YA with. I hope this is just erroneously perceived on my part, but I'm not sure.
"And the thing is, this is supposedly a YA novel. If [THE GIRL] really is YA, it is probably the most well written YA novel ever [...] I personally felt like this was an adult novel hiding behind the best YA disguise ever created."
That sounds to me that you don't hold YA in the same high esteem that you hold adult lit. Good YA, in my humble opinion, can completely hold its own against books written for adults. It just has a younger protagonist and mostly younger characters. I will admit that this isn't true for all, but if a YA book reads like an adult book to you, that means that we will enjoy it more. No one likes being talked down to.
Some of the best book I've ever read have been young adult, and I've read plenty of adult books too. (This may not matter to you, though, because of my age.) Many have "dark undercurrents", because what many teen deal with on a day-to-day basis is much darker than that of books. (I haven't actually read this one, so I'm basing this off other books I've read.) There are many cases of books being written for adults only to be published in the YA market because of age.
I'm not sure why you're surprised at how good a YA novel is, but it saddens me that because it's good, you have to say it should've been intended for adults.

ofmyinsanity said...

I have to agree with Mercy on this one. Just because a book is YA doesn't mean it's automatically not as good as novels geared towards adults. For example, Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee, whilst geared towards a younger audience, is still as deep and memorable as any book by Robbins or Adams, even if it does lack that subtle quirkiness that comes from having the majority of your plot set on a ranch named after a feminine hygiene product.
Other than that, though, this was a good review. Keep up the good work!
~~La Stranezza

Amy {BookshopTalk.com} said...

I'm almost 40, and I enjoy 1 adult novel for every 10 YA novels that I like. So I'm of the opposite mindset in that I'm surprised when an adult book even keeps my attention. However, if someone loves and reads mostly adult novels, like this reviewer, it's completely understandable that he would be surprised that it was so darn good. As I read it, he meant it as a compliment since - yes, generally - adult novels ARE more sophisticated in their writing styles, characterisations, etc, but that doesn't mean that they make for more enjoyable reading.

It's all about a matter of taste, that's all. Stephenie Meyer ruined vampire books for me, and I think I'm only one of 50 people in the world who feel that way. So, just a matter of opinion :)

Steve the Bookstore Guy said...

You are all absolutely correct. A good YA novel stands right there with a good adult novel or a good non-fiction novel or whatever.

Amy is right in that I typically keep to the adult market. Why? No reason in particular. I just like it better. The same reason I prefer adult-market fantasy to thrillers and non-fiction. I just like it better. A good book is a good book regardless of its age classification.

That's what I was getting at in my review. To a guy who reads adult fantasy mostly, this didn't feel like YA to me. To someone who loves YA, I wouldn't be surprised if it spoke directly to them. It's the novel's (and therefore the author's) ability to involve every audience rather than exclude any that makes this novel so fantastic.

I do enjoy YA, especially if it is written well and entertaining (I know, I know. Shouldn't every book be that way?). ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry. VARIANT by Robison Wells. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells (it YA in the UK). I never said anywhere in my review that I think less of YA. That would be silly of me, and I apologize if you got that tone.

Look at it from my angle. I read 1-2 books a week, every week of the year. I get jaded quickly. If a book (YA or Adult or whatever) can make me THIS excited to read it, isn't that pretty freaking awesome?

Amy {BookshopTalk.com} said...

Very well said, Steve. All of you have great points :)

Kim said...

I don't think I've anticipated reading a book more than I'm currently anticipating reading THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND...! It just sounds so amazing. I love what Steve put on the "Content Table" at the bottom of his review: "Market: Young Adult...kinda. Adult...kinda. Everyone should read it." I, for one, am DYING to read it!

Mercy said...

I'm sorry I was so rude about this. I understand what you were trying to say. Sometimes I take offense too quickly, and I was kind of up in arms after all the recent articles about how YA is bad and lesser and all that.
Again, I'm really sorry. Also sorry that this apology is about a month late.
But your review definitely did what it was supposed to, because I'd really like to read this book!

Kim said...

Mercy, thank you so much for this considerate follow-up to the post and comments on this post. It was an interesting discussion, and I felt like it was really quite positive all around. So please don't beat yourself up about inspiring this book-talk!

I ended up reading THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND...and I thought it was like fudge: best consumed in bits. The writing was absolutely delectable, and oh-so-rich. And the story style felt very much like ALICE IN WONDERLAND--it had a "dream sequence" feel to it.

Has anyone else read the book since Steve's review was posted?