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Fairyland #1

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

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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.

247 pages, Hardcover

First published May 10, 2011

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About the author

Catherynne M. Valente

254 books7,216 followers
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and camphor wilds of Japan.

She currently lives in Maine with her partner, two dogs, and three cats, having drifted back to America and the mythic frontier of the Midwest.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,788 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 89 books232k followers
October 20, 2014
I walked into the bookstore in a bit of a mood.

Wait, that's my Midwestern nature talking. We tend to understate. The truth is I walked into the bookstore furious at the world. I can't remember why. I am prone to dark moods, and when I'm in the middle of one, I tend to rumble through the world like an angry old-testament god.

I went directly to the Sci-Fi Fantasy section. That's where I live for the most part. That's where I go when the world gets to be too much for me.

I looked at the titles. I'd read about a quarter of them. I read a lot. But nothing looked particularly good. Nothing does when I'm in one of my moods.

A friendly bookseller walked over. "Can I help you find anything?" she asked.

"I want to read something good," I said. "I'm tired of gritty depressing shit. I want a fun, light book that isn't going to leave me wanting to put a gun in my mouth."

I'm not hyperbolizing. That's what I actually said. It wasn't a nice thing to say, but I can be unpleasantly brusk at times.

The bookseller didn't bat and eye. She pointed out a couple books, then asked how I felt about YA.

"I'll read anything if it's good," I said.

She pointed out this book. I'd heard of it before, appreciated its awesome title. I like faerie stories. Most importantly, I've read Cat Valente's work before, and I know she has a marvelous grip on the language.

Five pages into this book, I thought, "Why didn't I read this years ago? Why haven't I heard about this book before?"

I flipped to the back cover and saw blurbs from Neil Gaiman and Peter S. Beagle. "Oh," I thought. "Probably because I'm an idiot who lives under a rock."

Ten pages in, I was irritated. Fifteen pages in, I was jealous. Twenty pages in, I was in love.

So. A review:

This book is beautiful. The language is lovely without being pretentious. The story is careful and playful and smart. This book made me tear up in places. Not because it is particularly sad. But because sometimes when a story is true and sweet and perfectly shaped, it puts its hand around my heart.

This book is everything I love about Victorian faerie tales without all the tedious bullshit.

This is the best book I've read all year. And I read a *lot* of books.

I look forward to reading this book to my little boy. And that, ultimately, is the best thing I can say about a book.

So yeah. Read it. Read it ten times.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
July 3, 2011
WINNER: BESTest, BRILLIANTest, most EXCELLENTest, YA Novel in HistorYA!!!
I know, I know, that comes as a bit of a shocker, what with Potter, Percy and those Hunger Gamers running from all those Sparkly Emos and bumping into Bartimaeus hiding inside His Dark Materials waiting for some Giver of an Abhorsen to find their Wrinkle in Time to send them all back to Wonderland. Not to mention that AMAZO Genesis I read earlier this year (sorry I couldn't work it in above).

However, despite all of those "mostly" special literary achievements, this story by Ms. Valente and her amazing protagonist September has more concentrated WUP (win units per page) than any other “too young to vote” fiction I have ever read. The writing, humor, plot, narrative voice, characters, imagination and respect for the reader that this gem of a book shows is something rare and very, very special.

As I look over my list of all time favorite books (of any genre), one element that seems to appear most often is unforgettable prose and a unique voice. From Mieville in Perdido Street Station, to McCarthy in No Country for Old Men, to Winslow in Savages and to Gaiman in American Gods, these writers get my pulse up and running and make my brain swell with jealousy and drip envy for the unworldly skills of these master wordsmiths.

Well folks, Ms. Valante will be buying the next round at the “We Write so Amazingly Well That We Make You Feel Stupid and Inadequate” pub session. The writing in this story is exquisite that it’s painful. It is descriptive and brilliant, yet humorous and whimsical. It is just flawless in what it tries to do...namely entertain, enlighten and bring a sense of wonder and joy.

Those of you that have read previously read Valente’s In the Night Garden, knows that she can pen prose like nobody’s business and tell a complex yet readable story with nuance and care. Here, she has taken that gift, brought it to the YA format and created a new standard in excellence that I hope many try to follow.

Let me take a quick babble gush break and give you a thumbnail of the plot. A young girl in Nebraska gets taken by the Green Wind and his companion, the Leopard of Little Breezes, to Fairyland for an unforgettable adventure. Along the way, she ends up meeting more fantastical people, creatures and places than you could shake a magic stick at without having said stick turn around look at you and tell you to knock it off.

Okay, that’s enough of the plot as you will be able to explore that creamy nuggety goodness all on your own. Let's get back to the writing. Here is a scene from the beginning of the book: 
“How does one get to Fairyland? After a while, we shall certainly pass India and Japan and California and simply come round to my house again.”
The Green Wind chuckled. “I suppose that would be true if the earth were round.”
“I’m reasonably sure it is…”
“You’re going to have to stop that sort of backward, old-fashioned thinking, you know. Conservatism is not an attractive trait. Fairyland is a very Scientifick place. We subscribe to all the best journals.”
The Leopard of Little Breezes gave a light roar. Several small clouds skipped huffily out of their path.
“The earth, my dear is roughly trapezoidal, vaguely rhomboid, a bit of a tessaract, and altogether grumpy when its fur is stroked the wrong way! In short, it is a puzzle, my autumnal acquisition…”
C'mon...just say Ahhhhhh!!!

In addition to the story itself, Ms. Valente does something I really love to see in stories like this that have “OMG so much is happening every second that it is hard to keep track of where we are going” plots. She gives the reader a map of what's coming without spoiling any of the story. For example, here is the heading for the second chapter in the book.
In which September Passes Between Worlds, asks Four Questions and Receives Twelve Answers, and Is Inspected by a Customs Officer
Thus, we are given hints as to what to look for, but no way of knowing what it means until it happens and at which point we smile, say wow wow wubsy and bask in the warm and fuzzy glow of the awesomeness.

Oh, and a quick word on the ART. The art is terrific and is a perfect compliment to the story. For example:

Just another aspect of this incredible read.

Before I wrap this up, I want to pay one final compliment to Ms. Valente (and also to other writers who show great respect for their readers). While this is a story that I think YAs will love, I believe that it is the adults, especially those of us that love lush language and witty words, that will enjoy this the most. This is because Ms. Valente doesn’t dumb down her story AT ALL. This is a YA book written as much for adults as for YAs (kind of like the movie Shrek with all the little "adult" in jokes).
The story has a way of making you feel like a younger version of yourself as you read it.
The story is sometimes dark, but always beautiful. There is adventure, pain, bravery, lessons about life and growing up, magic, hardship, sadness, mysteries, laughter, amazing characters and OH, THE WRITING. Buy this book...read the book....love the book...re-read this book. 6.0 Stars HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

P.S. I listened to the audio version read by the author and she was absolutely amazing...I mean amazing. If you have a chance to experience it..DO!!

Profile Image for Nataliya.
743 reviews11.8k followers
April 26, 2023
My favorite thing about this book is, of course, Wyverary A-Through-L. What's a wyverary, you ask? Well, when a wyvern and a library love each other very very much......blush... you know the spiel.

But do I sense some skepticism, my cynical friends? Do you maybe insist on thinking there is an infinitely more prosaic explanation for the existence of Wyverary, an alphabetizing-loving fire-breathing half-library? Let him rebuke your doubts himself:
September, really. Which do you think is more likely? That some brute bull left my mother with egg and went off to sell lonemozers, or that she mated with a Library and had many loved and loving children? I mean, let us be realistic!
This is a cute and whimsical story of a pre-teen Nebraska girl September (born in May, actually) who eagerly leaves the world where her father is fighting in a war and her mother is building airplanes, and sets out for Fairyland. Where, as she soon learns, things are not all that she had thought they'd be. There is violence, and slavery, and pain, and abandonment, and cruelty, and bureaucracy.
I believe I am sick to death of hearing what is and is not allowed. What is the purpose of a Fairyland if everything lovely is outlawed, just like in the real world?
Along the way, September meets the aforementioned Wyverary, a wish-granting Marid, the evil Marquess, spoonless witches, queenless soap golem, migrating velocipedes, and a jacket that is eager to please, among others. Along the way, she loses her heart, her shadow, her friends, and a great deal of her innocence. And finds much more than she lost - or bargained for.
Oh, September. Such lonely, lost things you find on your way. It would be easier, if you were the only one lost. But lost children always find each other, in the dark, in the cold. It is as though they are magnetized, and can only attract their like. [...] If you would only leave cages locked and turn away from unloved Wyverns, you could stay Heartless. But you are stubborn, and do not listen to your elders.
This story is marketed for children, but I think it takes an adult to fully appreciate the scope of this story as well as many more-or-less subtle adult hints scattered throughout. The book is permeated with the nostalgia for childhood and innocence, and you can truly appreciate this nostalgia only after you have left your childhood behind.

The writing and the plotting of this book reminded me of a hybrid between the creations of Lewis Carroll (with less whimsy), Terry Pratchett (but less firmly grounded in the unreal reality), and Neil Gaiman (with less of the trademark matter-of-fact coolness). At first I thought it was trying too hard to be cute and self-aware, a bit too flowery, with overly precocious allegories and endless whimsy. Example:
You’ll know it right away, it’s a big wooden spoon, streaked with marrow and wine and sugar and yogurt and yesterday and grief and passion and jealousy and tomorrow.
But the writing grew on me as I continued with the story, and I came to love the fluidity of language and the beauty and lyricism of Valente's apt descriptions. The plot moves along smoothly and in determined fashion - much like September does through the Fairyland.


As for our heroine September - she is pretty cool and awesome. She is kind and resourceful and brave and stubborn and spirited. But I must admit - I did not care for her as much as I did for Gaiman's Coraline or Pratchett's Tiffany Aching - but in all honesty, those characters are hard to compete with. I cared more for her quest than for her. But the supporting characters truly shine.
That’s the way I’m made. I have to keep going, always, and even when I get where I’m going I’ll have to keep on.
The strange and somewhat broken Fairyland has won me over. I recommend this book to everyone who loves to exercise their imagination with a bot of whimsy. Plus, you will get to meet my favorite Wyverary! 4.5 stars, and it is placed on my "For-my-future-hypothetical-daughter" shelf.
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.

My review for the second September book, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, is over here, by the way.

Recommended by: Catie
Profile Image for carol..
1,534 reviews7,863 followers
December 9, 2018
The first two pages and I'm in love.

It's going on the "must buy" list, as well as the "must give" list.

The Girl sets all fairy tale conventions on their heads while managing to retain the spirit and charm of the best. In the tradition of the door-in-the-hedge fantasy, the trip through the closet into Fairyland is inventive and whimsical. Valente perhaps pokes fun at times, but always gently: "you will either perish most painfully or be forced to sit through a very tedious tea service with several spinster hamadryads." The heroine is a bit unconventional but not exactly drowning in misery: "she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow" and had a mother "bending over a stubborn airplane engine in her work overalls, her arm muscles bulging." Right there, you know it won't be traditional, but nor will it be grim modern, with boys locked under staircases, mothers with drug problems, or orphaned children scavenging food. Yet it still explores the core emotional issues of independence, identity, fear, and love, while acknowledging the place children come from is not all kindness and cookies. "One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one."

Swooning continued as I read. Valente tells beautiful word-smithy tales. A Wyvern named "A-Through-L" (his father is the Library) deserves the award for Best Fantasy Sidekick of the Year. There's even a list of reasons why: "Thirdly, being French in origin, they have highly refined tastes and are unlikely to seek out unsavory things to eat, such as knights' gallbladders or maidens' bones. They much prefer a vat or two of truffles, a flock of geese, and a lake of wine, and they will certainly share." Of course, since they are French.

After finishing, I was mentally working out my review as I swam, and discovered I had trouble analyzing why I enjoyed this book so much. I went home, picked up the book again, opened to a page and found myself saying, "oh, I loved this part," only to follow it with, "and this phrasing!" and exclamations of "and look how she characterizes ___!"

That's the kind of book it is: something you remember loving and enjoying, even when you can't quite identify why, and then when you are immersed in it again, it all becomes crystal clear.

Like a fantasy world.

"When you are born... your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you're half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living."

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2012/1...
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.2k followers
January 5, 2023
this was fun and nice and i wish i read it when i was a child. because then i would have felt the full whimsy of it in real time, and then also have access to a lifelong store of nostalgia every time i read it again forevermore.

but instead, this is a children's book i read as an adult, so it feels like the ceiling of my feelings for it are "fun and nice."

but it was definitely that!

bottom line: am i having an existential crisis?

tbr review

two people told me this is similar to alice's adventures in wonderland, and that was enough for an immediate placement on my to-read list
Profile Image for Caz (littlebookowl).
301 reviews40.3k followers
May 18, 2018
Rating: 3.5 stars

This was so imaginative and whimsical, it is certainly a fun read with wonderful characters. I found it to lag a little in the middle, so it a slower read despite the length of the book.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,964 followers
May 29, 2022
Re-Read 5/29/22:

This time with my 9-year-old daughter. I thought it would be a perfect match, with gorgeous writing, fantastic ideas, and a sweet-and-bittersweet core. And of course, fairyland.

In actual fact, she just thought it was okay. It had a few bright points. Sometimes it was kinda a chore for her to get through -- EXCEPT -- muahahaha -- when we got to the climax and after, when all those glorious little details started snapping together, it all changed.

Suddenly, the book came to utter life. The Marquess's motivation, the storm, the fight, the resolution, all of it became something much better and better BECAUSE of all those glorious details.

So the book was, actually, a huge hit. She's even bugging me to read the sequels, which really surprises me because it had to force her to get through the first. But that's hindsight for you. Once it DOES all come together brilliantly, it changes your perception of everything that came before. :)

Original Review:

This is easily one of the most delightful and magical YA titles I've ever read.

I know people do like to compare it to Alice in Wonderland, but in a lot of ways, it's better. There's more than a basketful of clever, more than a truckload of beautiful language, and a whole ocean of delight.

The darkness doesn't overwhelm and there are no overt or subtle religious messages. A lot happens, but it's friendship that carries the final day.

I'm going to be reading this to my daughter when she is a little older. I honestly think it surpasses Pullman and Gaiman and Carroll. It's so light and it tickles all my funny-bones.

And best of all, it leaves no aftertaste except for a pleasant glow. No saccharine. No pedantic moralizing. Just plain magic, trickery, adventure, and a twist of the tongue that makes me grin from ear to ear.

Valente is quickly becoming one of my most beloved authors. I knew I had to read everything after Radiance, and this just cements it. :)
Profile Image for Krystle.
893 reviews337 followers
January 4, 2012
This book just wasn't for me. The writing style is so different, so whimsical, so fancy, that I can tell the author had a lot of fun stretching her vocabulary to the utmost and rolling around and playing in it till it came out in wonderfully wrapped paragraphs and pages. But I just didn't like it. There are so much things I had to remember, keep track of, and all that stuff that I just got so lost and became disinterested.

Don't get me wrong, the world building is creative and all sorts of fabulous. It's got humor, funky creatures, and all sorts of cool stuff we all love. But it's kinda hard to visualize. For me, anyway.

There's even threads of deeper themes in the book. Such as even though things seem wonderful on the outside, they may not be when one looks closer at it. The maturation and growth of one leaving childhood and learning about the hardships of the world. The things a girl lacks and then wants may actually be what she has in bountiful measures even though she can't readily see it so clearly.

All this stuff. But I just wasn't into the story. I think it's the case of right book, wrong reader. I'm quite sure this book will have its scores of readers and that one shouldn't be deterred by my review. They should, of course, pick the book up themself and see if it's for them or not.

I tried, I really tried. I got more than 150 pages through this book and once I realized that I just didn't care or connect with the characters and had begun skimming I knew it was time to put the book down. Sad I couldn't like it more but I guess that's how the world of books go.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,887 reviews1,923 followers
October 11, 2013
This 5* review has been moved to Shelf Inflicted.

It's superb, jaw-dropping writing. I'll be very surprised if this isn't a lot of people's favorite childhood read in the year 2040. (Which I hope to be around to see.)
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,644 reviews5,092 followers
December 30, 2015
growing up, i loved the Oz books (the Baum ones, at least). i read all of them multiple times - i think there are 14 or so - and have enjoyed rereading them here and there as an adult. i love how the fancifulness and frequent absurdity of Baum's creations are anchored down by prosaic reality. i love their no-nonsense child heroines (and occasional heroes) - precocious but never precious, cute but never cutesy-poo. i love the transparency of Baum's prose, the layering of meaning and metaphor, the use of genuine tragedy, the light touch, the wisdom of it all. so it is a happy thing and one of the highest compliments that i can imagine giving when i say that reading Girl Who Circumnavigated brought me right back to that enchanting feeling of reading a classic Oz book.

Valente is a marvel with language. i knew she could write like a mad poet after reading the amazing In the Night Garden; less expected was her ability to smooth down and simplify her lush style so that it is perfectly tailored for a children's novel. it loses no lustre in the transition. reading Valente's prose reminds me of looking through my window at a light rain falling on an otherwise bright day, the sun and water making a painting of the world, images seen through the droplets of rain rolling down glass. lovely!

the character of The Girl Who Circumnavigates is instantly familiar from any number of Oz books - her sensible and at times irritable nature, the depth of her feelings, her forthright way of navigating the places through which she wanders. she is a classic type, but never a tiresome one. her attachment to her new friends is adorable, but never corny or mawkish. i love the brave moments when she considers returning home but almost instantaneously rejects that cowardly path. and when she finally builds that Ship of Her Own Making... my gosh, that was wonderful! much internal cheering ensued.

Valente makes the adventure a pleasure from beginning to end. her use of irony is constant - and sweetly good-humored, never heavy-handed, suitable for kids but thoroughly adult as well. equally sophisticated is her use of symbol and metaphor, her smooth incorporation of various mythologies and mythological creatures, and especially her entirely original conception of the novel's arch-villain - so appalling, so tragic, so understandable. poor child!

and any children's fantasy that features the parallel saga of a brave & loyal Key, a strikingly sinister Shadow of a Little Girl about to run off on its own strange journey, a helpful & industrious Smoking Jacket, two Witches married to an elegant little male Witch/ Wair-Wolf, and most of all a genuinely touching & loveable Wyvern... well, i am that novel's true friend.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
January 15, 2018
This is a portal fantasy in the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz/The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tradition, where a young girl goes to a magical land and tries to Right What's Wrong.

Twelve year old September, bored with her life and washing pink-and-yellow teacups and dealing with mostly-absent parents, gets talked into a trip to Fairyland by the Green Wind, who settles her into the saddle of his flying leopard and whisks her away to new adventures. Because--like most children--September is more or less Heartless, she doesn't tell her mother good-bye or leave her a note. She finds some delightful (and magical) friends and is reluctantly pulled into a quest by the cruel ruler of Fairyland, the Marquess. And September begins to grow a heart, which can be a painful process, especially if you are fated to lose it.

It's extremely fantastical and whimsical, and it was a little too much for me when I sat down and tried to read it straight through, but when I started reading it in smaller doses, with breaks in between, the delightfulness resurfaced. This would be a fun read-aloud book with children who are old enough to handle some painful scenes where characters get badly hurt. It's ultimately a very uplifting story with a good underlying message.
"You are not the chosen one, September. Fairyland did not choose you--you chose yourself. You could have had a lovely holiday in Fairyland and never met the Marquess, never worried yourself with local politics, had a romp with a few brownies and gone home with enough memories for a lifetime's worth of novels. But you didn't. You chose. You chose it all."
Reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is kind of like this:


and this:

with a little of this:


P.S. I highly recommend the prequel short story, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While. It's free online at Tor.com, and it's a great way to test the waters and see if this series is likely to appeal to you.

Art credits:
Profile Image for Peter Topside.
Author 4 books669 followers
February 24, 2021
I really am not a huge fan of fantasy novels like this. However, I think it was written very well and the level of creativity was astounding. The details of each creature and environment in Fairyland is so vivid that you really do feel like you're standing there with the main character, September. Basically imagine a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, and that's the general feel of the story. Even fans of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would probably have a blast reading this, too.
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,744 followers
June 1, 2011
Well devil if I know what to do with it.

Never complain that you are bored, ladies and gentlemen. Say such a thing and you might find that the universe has a couple tricks up its sleeve. Let's say, for example, that a certain children's librarian was getting bored with the state of fantasy today. Maybe she read too many Narnia rip-offs where a group of siblings is plunged into an alternate world to defeat a big bad blah blah blah. Maybe she read too many quest novels where plucky young girls have to save their brothers/friends/housepets. So what does the universe do? Does it say, "Maybe you should try something other than fantasy for a change"? It does not. Instead it hands the children's librarian a book with a title like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and (if she hasn't hyperventilated after reading the title) says to her, "Here you go, smart guy. Try this on for size." That's what being cocky will get you. It'll have you reading a book that walks up to the usual middle grade chapter book fantasy tropes and slaps 'em right smack dab in the face. I have never, in all my livelong days, read a book quite like Catherynne Valente's. My job now is to figure out whether that is a good thing, or very very bad.

When September is asked by The Green Wind whether or not she'd be inclined to take a trip to Fairyland with him, she's so excited to get going that she manages to lose a shoe in the process. Like many a good reader September is inclined to think that she knows the rules of alternate worlds. Yet it doesn't take much time before she realizes that not all things are well in the realm of magic. A strange Marquess has taken over, having defeated the previous good ruler, and before she knows it September is sent to try to retrieve a spoon from the all powerful villain. Along the way she befriends a Wyvern who is certain that his father was a library, and a strange blue Marid boy named Saturday who can grant you a wish, but only if you defeat him in a fight. With their help, Saturday realizes what it means to lose your heart within the process of becoming less heartless.

Divisive. Each year you'll encounter one big children's book that can be labeled as such. Certain books and certain writers can have violent affects on their readers, unsuspected until the official reviews start pouring in. Then suddenly folks with opinions start pouring out of the woodwork. The books are as varied as Mockingbird, The Underneath, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. One thing's for certain, though. Everyone has an opinion. This year I've only identified two potentially divisive books and one of them is the title you see before you today. I know I've been a little cagey about what I thought of it until now so here's the 411: I like it. A lot. Far more than I thought that I would, particularly after that first chapter. As far as I can determine, enjoying this book means getting through Chapter One. If you read the first chapter and find yourself throwing the book against the wall without restraint, this may not be the story for you. If, however, you feel a vague queasiness that resolves itself into reluctant curiosity, you may wish to continue. And if you do, you will find a title that really outdoes itself in being . . . well . . . it's own very one-of-a-kind self.

But why is it divisive? It all comes down to Valente's language. Look, here's the first sentence as an example: "Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog." About ten words into that sentence you had to make a decision on whether or not to continue reading. Here's some advice on going through this book. Step One: Get a grasp on its internal logic.

The Alice's Adventures in Wonderland comparison is inevitable. Generally speaking, a person is able to identify a poor debut children's book when the author attempts to make an Alice-in-Wonderland-but-with-a-twist book. The problem with this plan is that just as no band sounds quite like The Beatles, no children's novel ever sounds quite like Alice. They try, oh Lord they try, but no go. More often than not such books are instead tedious and very poorly done. Most of them think that the lure of Alice is strange talking creatures in a world with no rules. This is somewhat true, but it's only a piece of the puzzle. And in all my days as a children's librarian, reading fantasy after fantasy, I have NEVER encountered a book that came as close to Alice as this. Not because Valente also throws a girl into a fairyland with kooky characters, but because it is so infinitely clear that she loves to play with language. Logic isn't as twisted up as it is in Carroll's universe, but that's all right. Valente is comfortable weaving her own unique vision, and like Carroll she's not afraid to throw in a little joke for adults once in a while. Would a kid get anything out of reading that the Green Wind possesses a "golden ring of diplomatic immunity"? Probably not and they probably won't care when Saturday enters a delicious looking town that, "was as though the witch who built the gingerbread house in the story had a great number of friends and decided to start up a collective." But it won't hurt the reading experience either.

Of course September is far more active than Alice when seeking out her adventure. In fact, if I were to compare her to any famous children's literary character, she probably bears more in common with Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth than anyone else. That was my first thought. Then after a while I decided that September begins as Alice (after all, she lies right at the start about wanting to go home), morphs into Dorothy (girl + faithful companions to defeat the big bad villain), and comes to us by way of Milo (boredom as a storytelling impetus). That's a pretty pedigree. On top of that, this is a thoroughly American fantasy. One where you won't encounter random characters with cockney accents (a current pet peeve of mine). September hails from Omaha, Nebraska and the story seems to take place during WWII. Her father is stationed in Europe while her mother works in the factories at home. Many fantasies for kids eschew placing their stories in such distinctive time periods, but if it worked for Narnia it should work here too.

And Valente gets personalities down rather well too. I heard one complaint that the Marid named Saturday is hardly a fleshed out character. I might contest this, though, since I found him capable of many small touches that rang clear and true to me. For example, at one point he makes a point that is followed up with the notation, "He was still too shy to suggest anything without wrapping it up tight to keep it safe." Likewise the villain of this book is delicious. It takes a while to get a good grasp on the Marquess, but once you get her full backstory then there's a lot to admire here. A mere two-dimensional villain she is not, and for that I was grateful.

Ana Juan, brilliant Ana Juan, could not have been a better person to draw the interstitial illustrations that appear at the beginnings of each and every chapter. This Spanish illustrator specializes in dreamlike worlds on her own time ("The Night Eater" is a perfect example) so it is interesting to see what she does with a book like Valente's. To my surprise, she hones in her talents a bit. The pictures here are most definitely her own, but there's a tendency here to make them a little younger and clearer than I'm used to seeing. There's a darkness to Valente's story that does not replicate itself in the pictures, which is probably a good thing. After all, Quentin Blake's illustrations have always served to make Roald Dahl less frightening at times. Maybe Juan's are doing the same thing here.

In the end, it's all about the language and the inevitable question of whether or not kids will dig the book. It's a worthy question. When a character is sent to a fairyland, even one in dire straits, it is up to the author to make it clear that this is a place you would want to visit. Some fantasies go a shade too dark and because of this inclination do not become beloved by children. Valente, however, mixes some wonderful elements with some horrific ones well enough that I think this book could be fondly remembered by a child years and years later. And when they return to it as adults, how surprised they will be by the wordplay. I won't lie. Some folks do NOT like this book, and I can understand why that is. For me, though, this is just one of the smarter juxtapositions of the fantastical with the tongue-twisted. Here you have an author who clearly enjoys writing. And if that enjoyment seeps through the page and into the reader's perceptions, then here is a book that they'll clearly enjoy reading. A true original and like nothing you've really ever seen before.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,461 reviews9,616 followers
September 8, 2016
I'm so freaking mad, I just knew I would love this book to death. I only liked it but it seemed like it was right there waiting for me to love it. I'm definitely going to re-read this one before going on to the other ones that I own because I usually love this kind of book!


And the pictures were so cute. I loved A-Through-L, the Wyvern. Well, the Wyverary since his father was a library. Don't ask!

I love that so many of my friends loved this book and like I said, I'm going to read it again maybe next year before continuing on with the other ones I have because I think it's just my mood. This is really a cute book and I know it's usually something I love. Makes me sad!
Profile Image for The Library Lady.
3,587 reviews522 followers
September 8, 2011
There is an audience for this sort of thing among the sort of fully grown women who grew up reading George MacDonald, Frank Baum, James Barrie and all the other sentimental, precious fiction of an earlier era. And perhaps some of today's 21st century girls will grow up to be part of that audience.

Sorry fans, this is too derivative and too damn "twee" for me, and once more I am pissed off at librarians and other reviewers who review for the child in themselves rather than for the child actually standing in front of them wanting their help in finding the right book!
Profile Image for Mark.
163 reviews3 followers
March 18, 2013
I didn't properly finish the book because I couldn't bring myself to care about what happened to the main character. Or, rather, I feel like I already know: September is going to keep encountering a string of creatures, except [creature] is totally different from any other rendition of [creature] in literature, and will spend some time pedantically explaining itself and its neuroses, there'll be a lot of forced wackiness, and she'll pick up clues and bits of string and solve whatever at the end and click her heels and go home and I'm so bored. It was overwhelmingly writerly, and while I appreciate a well-turned phrase as well as the next person, Valente is jumping in front of me, waving her hands in my face, 'Look at me! I'm so clever! I have a thesaurus and an appreciation of Lewis Carroll!' so that I can't even see the story.
Profile Image for Mari.
705 reviews5,022 followers
December 7, 2020
For full feelings on The Fairyland Series, check out my video review.

This book is my favorite book in my favorite series. I'll front load this review with reasons it might not be for you: Valente is known for her dense, flowery writing. It is very descriptive and a lot of the charm is in just-because magic, backwards places and wild creatures that rely heavily on tropes created by other fairytales. It is also earnest and dispenses little nuggets of wisdom for people who appreciate a good quotable line. It might be cheesy to others who prefer a little more aloofness or vagueness in their messaging. It is also plot light and detail heavy. If you need more purpose in your plot, and struggle with things that amble, this will be tricky for you.

If you are like me, however, and how well something is written plays heavily into your enjoyment of the book, this will be an absolute treat. This book is steeped in imagination and overflowing with imagery. It is sharp and witty-- a love letter to language, turns of phrase, stories, little girls who save worlds, and magic.

I am also a big fan of coming of age stories and stories that explore grief; this does both wonderfully. It is a little sad, in the way that fairytales can sometimes be and in the way that growing up can often be. When you think about it, fairy lands can be savage, and the idea of popping in and out of a place is brutal, and this story doesn't shy away from that. That said, this story is also hopeful. The plot is simple, I think, and padded out with lots of places and creatures and sometimes silly details, but it's a journey book, so that was okay with me. It's just so thoughtful in all of its pieces and what they say for September's growing-up, from the scrubbing of her courage, to the break from a home that's bleak and gray with the absence of her father, to the growing of her heart, to the losing it again. It takes fairytale tropes and looks them in the eye and then uses those pieces to seemingly explore a place when it is really exploring a person.

Relatedly, these characters are now some of my favorite ever. They've earned place in my heart through rereading and because of the incredible growth they experience through their journey in the series. This story led by the brave and wonderful September, flanked by some of the best secondary characters in A-Through-L and Saturday and a freaking 112 year old lantern, who may or may not make me cry every single time. (May.) Even the narrator becomes a character as she interjects into September's story, forewarning us and leading us through this story with care.

I love this story. Have I mentioned that? Just making sure.

Below are some quick thoughts from my rereads:

[December 1, 2020] Twice in one year? Sure, if that year is 2020. Back in March, it was my intention to do a complete read through of the series, but things went from bad to worse and I stopped reading all together. I wanted to finish up this read through, but I wouldn't be who I was if I didn't start from the beginning. So, I read this one again. The more and more I reread this, the more I'm sure Lye and the scene of scrubbing up your courage and washing off your dreams is my favorite. Dear, sweet heartless September, a brave knight in her own story, thank you for keeping me company when I need it the most.

[March 29, 2020] I read this right at the start of the pandemic. It was during a time my brain wasn't able to really read, where stress and anxiety mean a reading slump. But I turned to this short and lovely thing and as always, loved every moment of it.

[April 30, 2019] Marking for reread. I wanted something easy and familiar to read in the middle of a month long readathon and this fit the bill. Forever favorite. I was especially taken by Lye's heartbreaking story this time, perhaps especially because I deeply long for a way to wash off my courage and reset my dreams these days.

[May 2, 2018] Marking for reread. I lost my original review of this, as I mention below, but this is probably the 4th time I read this book and I still love it as much as ever. It was just what I needed to read, too-- something homey and comfortable during a really stressful time.

[March 3, 2016] Something happened and I lost my previous reviews of this book. Just know that I loved this every bit as much on third read. It's wordy and whimsical and flowery and a bit silly and a lot heartbreaking and I love it.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,921 reviews3,402 followers
May 27, 2016

I found this picture some time ago but had no idea how fitting it would be for this review (the text as well as the little girl pictured)! :D

In fact, I only decided to buy and read this book because of Brad's raving review and the fact that I was able to get it for my Kindle for just 99 Cents! Sometimes it really does seem as if some books were meant to be with me and are willing to do anything to make that happen!

Anyway, this is the story of a girl called September who lives in Omaha and wishes herself away. I think we can all relate to that even if we do not live in Omaha.
Her wish is granted and thus begins her adventure in Fairyland.

The story itself is thrilling and adventuresome but, naturally, reminds the reader of other child-gets-to-fantasy-world-and-has-adventures stories. In fact, what was quite the gem while reading this book, was that the author references books like the Narnia series, Alice's Wonderland and Dorothy's Land of Oz and one could argue that she showed these to be all the same place, really.

However, this is NOT a typical book. Far from it. It's also not a copy/mix of the above mentioned books.
The author truly is a mage - and I don't say this often. Books about magical lands should also have magical words describing said magical world. And this author, so far as I can tell, is definitely one of the best when it comes to a magical language. Maybe she even is THE best of them. There are so many quotable lines that I'm certain I have marked at least 1/4 of the book if not more.
She uses puns, twists fairytale morals/tropes and she weaves all of it into a compelling description that makes your mouth water when you read about all sorts of autumnal food,

that lets you relax when you read about baths the main character takes and that lets you feel the wind in your own hair when September flies.

Moreover, how the author spun her tale around the Marquess (not just a villain but actually a complicated character as is only right) and Fairyland's history shows that she cannot only tell a BEAUTIFUL tale but also a COMPLEX and CLEVER one. And a quirky, silly, funny, dark one too.
Seriously, this tale has so many layers, it is hard to do it justice when describing it.

I will admit that I had my doubts in the beginning when the author said that since I thought this to be very odd and very false. But I think I just had the wrong sort of expectations from that line and very soon afterwards the words had bound me and swept me away and when we came to I was utterly spellbound. That scene with was the most beautiful and magical thing I've ever read and I loved it! It's my favourite part in the book, closely followed by since that is my favourite time of year!

Moreover, this book is made even more precious (if such a thing is possible) with the odd illustrations at the beginning of every chapter. Odd because of the proportions of the characters but that somehow fits the odd place that is Fairyland I think. However, just like the story isn't just clever or colourful, the illustrations are not just odd but rich with details.
And the mini-summary of what happens in the respective chapter underneath the illustration to said chapter is quite a nice touch as well because it makes the whole thing even more thrilling and makes one even more curious.
And how could I have not loved a story with so many different big cats?!
Profile Image for Shannon.
3,090 reviews2,360 followers
February 19, 2012
It's hard to express in words just how lovely this book is, well, in my words that is; Valente's words are beyond magical.
She certainly did not see Death stand on her tip-toes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.
If you love fantasy or fairy tales, you will fall head-over-heels in love with this book.

Reading the last pages gave me the immense pleasure of shivers and goosebumps. This is a truly special book and I hope the majority of my friends read it.

The book trailer is also a wonderful thing to check out before and after you finish reading, and it successfully portrays the dark beauty of this book more so than I ever could with just a review.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,133 reviews8,140 followers
November 20, 2016
This is surely a whimsical and wonderful take on a classic fairytale. Valente also writes beautifully and challenges the reader (particularly young readers, the intended audience) with big words and big themes. I appreciated the grittiness of this story too. September, our heroine, faces some difficulties that you don't often find in children's literature. However, the middle of the story really lagged for me. There were a few chapters that didn't seem to contribute much to the plot other than to drag it out, and that was a shame because every other element of the story seemed so meticulously chosen and expertly placed. Overall I'm glad I finally saw what everyone was raving about; it's definitely an important story that I'm glad exists for young readers. I'm not sure if I will continue with the series any time soon, but maybe someday I'll return to fairyland.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,376 reviews1,431 followers
October 15, 2019
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a modern take on more traditional fairy tales wherein a child finds a way to another world and comes back changed.

I first read the title of this book in Catherynne Valente's much more adult novel Palimpsest. I think it was mentioned as sitting on someone's book shelf. I remember thinking how I wish I could read that book too. Imagine my surprise to discover it was actually a book in the real world. Of course, I had to pick it up.

"You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child," said the Green Wind. "How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders Fairyland?" pg 2

How could any heroine refuse an invitation like that? And the main character of this tale, a girl with the curious name of September, has read enough books to know a once-in-a-lifetime chance when she sees it. Though she doubts, at first, that she is the appropriate girl for the adventure.

"In stories, when someone appears in a poof of green clouds and asks a girl to go away on an adventure, it's because she's special, because she's smart and strong and can solve riddles and fight with swords and give really good speeches, and... I don't know that I'm any of those things." pg 14

Part of Valente's fairytale, like most good fairytales, is how September realizes how special she actually is — one of the conclusions heroes tend to arrive at during their various journeys.

September's journey is a danger-filled jaunt through a land under the thumb of a smartly-hatted villain named the Marquess. September meets curious characters along the way including a trio of witches, a wyvern who claims his father is a library, and a boy from under the ocean with dark eyes and a secret.

The story contains plenty of winks and nods to anyone who loves reading: "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." pg 36

And: "She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people." pg 55

They are the best sorts, aren't they.

Recommended for young adults, the young-at-heart, or anyone who enjoys quirky portal fantasy reads. I thought this book was charming.
Profile Image for Jim.
77 reviews255 followers
May 31, 2012
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
― Albert Einstein

In the normal scheme of things, I would have read this “children’s book”* first, as my introduction to the amazing writing of Catherynne Valente. But because this physical book took longer than expected to arrive - and because I was already bitten by the Valente bug through my good friends Catie and Nataliya - I began by taking on the highly complex and challenging (though shorter) AI fantasy - Silently and Very Fast.

Having read the complex novella, I expected this ‘simple’ middle-grade fantasy to be a leisurely cruise by comparison. Easy Peasy.

Silly me. Catherynne Valente, in my two-book experience, does not do Easy. Her writing is rich, layered, packed with ideas and playful, all at the same time and often in the same sentence. If you are looking for an easy read, look elsewhere.

But that’s okay by me, because I LOVE that kind of writing as long as it works on its own terms. By that, I mean I can handle the occasional sentence that needs to be read 2 or 3 times. I can unpack it, see the parts and understand the whole, admire what I see, and be ready for more.

Even so, I place a heavy burden on the author who writes that way. There must be beauty in the language and meaning in the lines. I need to care about the protagonist, and do a minimum of cringing over the latest stupid thing she has done. In the best case, she doesn’t do stupid things - or learns very quickly when she does. A no-argghhh narrative, that’s what I want.

Valente succeeds brilliantly on those terms, in my view. I would be hard-pressed to think of another author who displays the sheer power of beauty AND substance that she does. It is simply dazzling to watch her prose come to life, dance off the page and into sparkling structures that whirl off in all directions. I can’t get enough of it, and I intend to read a lot more (hopefully all) of her work.

In this Andre Norton Award winning tale, a 12 year old girl named September has a difficult and dreary life, full of mundane routine and with parents who are off to war (father) or working in war industry (mother).

With thanks to THT and her moving review, I have borrowed a few stills from the book trailer for this amazing work. I thank THT for the link, and I want to repeat her recommendation to watch the video both before and after reading, if and when.

September gets an invitation to ride off to Fairyland, and accepts with minimal hesitation - whether in her thoughts and dreams, or in a realistic fantasy, Valente is artfully unclear.

”Ever so briefly, Latitude and Longitude kissed, and when they parted, there was a space between their mouths just large enough for a Leopard carrying a Harsh Air and a little girl.”

From there, a series of adventures unfolds, with a master fantasist at the controls. We tour a series of richly imagined creations, and meet a fascinating set of characters that any author would envy and most readers will love.

Fairyland is full of wonders, but governed by rigid bureaucratic principles. September is only a young girl, with no experience of any of these things, but she must make do and accomplish what seems impossible, to her and to us.

”The going was not easy. Gold is very slippery to walk on and insists on sliding all over the place. She found that her bare foot was actually a bit more suited to the task than the shod one, as she could grasp at the gleaming ground with her toes.”

She shows remarkable resilience, and develops a group of marvelous friendships along the way. Each of September’s friends has marvelous powers, but the powers have very specific limits. And the prose sings to us as we watch these adventures unfold, with characters and settings that glisten and glow as they carry us deep into Fairyland.

The journey is difficult and dangerous, and September must call on all of her resources and learn as she goes.

”Remember, they are fast and tall and vicious! Many have perished or, at least, been roundly dumped off and bruised in the attempt to travel by wild bicycle.”

She is a classic smart, tough heroine, stiffening her resolve with every new challenge.

”September yelped in victory and set about hauling several of the log-size sceptres together and lining them up side by side.”

And yes, there is evil afoot - monstrous and well-disguised, very, very resourceful and SNEAKY. The values that September learns and applies are the classic virtues of loyalty, self-reliance and a persistence that wavers but never dies.

It is a wonderful story, and the story teaches as it tells. The drama builds to a tremendous finish, and I was shaking my head in awe at the end.

There were points in the story where I struggled with some of the layering, and a few of the twists and turns of events. But it is hard for me to imagine a more beautiful overall effect from beginning to end - one in which all of the pieces are seen (in hindsight) to fit perfectly, and every element is in a sensible place.

Thoughts After Reading

So, I loved it. After I finished this beautiful story, I mused a bit on the comparisons with Silently and Very Fast, and the more general theme of what adults can learn from children’s books (and why they would do well to read them).

First, the comparisons. In my review of Silently and Very Fast , I discussed questions that are raised when highly adaptable software takes on human ideas and desires. I mention that discussion here because a related set of questions emerges (for me) in this book. The same gifted writer takes a child through a fantasy world, but includes very ‘adult’ evils, trickery, bureaucracy and manipulation. I had some fun thinking about what (I believe) Valente is getting at, in the deeper levels behind the magic show up front.

The lesson I drew is that kind-hearted determination, intelligence, and perseverance can push through dark and powerful forces, find the points of vulnerability, and engineer a different and better outcome. For me, this was highly reminiscent in theme to the classic tale of A Wrinkle in Time, which I discussed here . Two great writers, teaching important lessons in two fanciful tales with extreme depth, for those who take the time to see them. Adults must work much harder at this, because our own layers of bias and cynicism have likely taught us a very different set of ‘virtues’. But we can see much more, if we really look. Children grasp the essential concepts immediately, unburdened by our adult baggage. But they can get caught up in the fantasy, and may miss the deeper meaning.

For me, Valente does something incredible in both books that I have read. She uses a mystical fantasy to dazzle the reader, but also to provide an alluring passageway to much deeper ideas. She explores the implications of these ideas, in such a charming setting that the lessons come across as we simply process the fantasy. Here, the net effect is that we get a fresh perspective on matters of ethics, philosophy and 'political' action. And we don’t get the dense, formal or emotionally loaded discussions of ‘adult’ treatments. In Silently and Very Fast, Valente conveys similar implications of ‘intelligence’ and ‘consciousness’ in machines and their human companions, and a trove of other deep concepts. And we don’t get a listing of computer algorithms, or a technical discussion of central vs. distributed processing.

If I read these two works again, I would start with this one per my original plan, and that would be my recommendation for anyone. But for now, I will be moving on to see what other wonders Valente has in store for us. (Just as soon as I clear away some of the TBR pile that has collected around my feet)

Very Highly Recommended

* There are reasonable grounds for doubting whether this is really a children’s book at all. I hope to test this idea on my 5th-grader, but he is absorbed in Charlie Bone at the moment.

Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,493 reviews960 followers
September 2, 2012

Consider this fair warning: I'm writing a squee review ,
as I think Catherynne Valente is the "bee's knees" when it comes to funny, modern, beautifully written fairytales that can appeal to children and adults in equal measure. Compared to The Orphan Tales , the adventures of the girl September in Fairyland are straightforward and easier to follow, without the frequent jumps from one storyteller to another, while maintaining the emotional intensity and the lyrical prose that first attracted me to the author. Easy doesn't mean "dumbed down" , and the major selling point of the story for me is exactly this : Valente doesn't talk down to kids, she doesn't coddle and she doesn't hide the pain that is, after all, an integral part of childhood and of life in general. September is a clever girl, she loves to learn new words and her best friend in the new world is a Wiverary (a cross between a wyvern and a Library) with an Encyclopaedic knowledge of everything, provided it starts with a letter from A to L.

September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying. .

In a nod to older readers, Valente even includes some theory of relativity and some Schroedinger:
The casket is really quite clever. I received first marks for it. How shall I explain? It is both empty and full until one opens it. For when a box is shut, you cannot tell what it might contain, so you might as well say it contains everything, because, really, it could contain anything, see? But when you open it, you affect what is inside. Observing something changes it, that's a law, nothing to be done.

At 12 years old, September is just the right age to feel the need to leave the safe parental nest and explore new territories. She is practical, self reliant and curious. Part of this comes from her mother, who is a machinist in an airplane factory. In a move that reminded me most of all of Frank L Baum and his Wizard of Oz stories, September (Dorothy) is one day whisked away from Nebraska (Kansas) by a magical wind and relocated to the land of Faerie (Oz) where she has to fight against the evil Marquess (Wizard). Her companions, instead of Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman, are the wiverary Ell, a blue boy named Saturday and Gleam - a sentient paper lantern. I would not like to give the impression the novel is a pastiche of the classic tale. The world is truly original, the creatures September meets beyond my wildest imagination (a volerie of feral bicycles, soap golems, twin NasNas referencing the Plato myth of perfect spheres, Tsukumogami sentient household appliances and many more). The language is modern, self aware and gently mocking established clichees, with the author sometimes commenting on the text in a secret covenant with the audience:

But I am a sly and wicked narrator. If there is a secret to be plumbed for your benefit, Dear Reader, I shall strap on a head-lamp and a pick-ax and have at it.

here are our heroes starting on their quest:
September tried very hard to look intrepid on her beast's back, and Ell tried a look of grim determination.

How could I not cheer them on and wished them well? The perils of the magical land are real and September doesn't have any 'get out of jail free' card. Her eyes will be opened to a future of struggle and pain, Death itself being just around the corner for the unwary quester.

We all live inside the terrible engine of authority, and it grinds and shrieks, and burns so that no one will say, lines on maps are silly.

The creatures of Faerieland live in a cruel dictatorship, and September will pay a heavy price for discovering that a heart is the most important thing to find at the end of the journey. Valente proposes at the start of the story that children are 'heartless', selfish little brutes always looking out for Number One, demanding constant attention and believing the whole world belongs to them. In this sense, September journey is one out of this selfish shell, learning responsibility, empathy and appreciation of parents and friends. Coming back to the story of Oz, this is also about courage, and friendship, and finding your heart and standing up to tyrants.

The upcoming new book in this universe looks really promising. I hope it will be about . I was less impressed by the bonus novella : The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For A Little While , but it offered a good fleshing out of the Marquess character. One thing I really like is the general presentation of the book - the font, the illustrations, the cover - it makes a great gift that I intend to push on some friends this next Christmas. Pro-tip: after the last page, go back and re-read the Cast of Characters at the beginning: it's a very funny synopsis of the whole story.

To close my comments, I should mention that all through my lecture I kept humming a tune by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, very appropriate for how I felt about the book:

I see trees that are green red roses too
I watch them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I hear babies cry I watch them grow
And they'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself oh what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of the people passing by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
But they're really saying I love you

And I think to myself oh what a wonderful world

July 5, 2018
I'm actually kind of mad with myself here, as I cannot praise this book as much as I was hoping to. This was a good read, but it wasn't as fantastic as I wanted it to be. The story was sweet, and was comparable to a stick of rock. It hit the right buttons with me in the fairy tale sense, the characters were imaginative, the setting was creative, but that is it. That is where it ends with me. I had no thoughts about it once I'd finished it, and the story hasn't stayed with me, either.
I sound as if I am totally disappointed with this read, and I assure you this isn't the case.
Valente's style of writing is fairly simple, but in this case, it definitely worked. She is clearly a super talented author. The beautiful images at the beginning of each chapter were picturesque, without being overbearlingly so. Now, let me talk about that front cover. Those of you that know me, know that I would buy a book just for the reason of the front cover being beautiful. I mean, isn't that the first thing that attracts one to a book? Anyway, the front cover is gorgeous. It's so authentic, and it has our female protagonist with a key, and a dragon with a chain and padlock wrapped around it, that seemingly needs rescuing. Who needs a man in this situation, hey?
The majority of this book was fast paced, but for me, it lagged too much in the middle, and the plot started to get increasingly confusing. Yes, this book is supposed to be a lot of fun and nonsense, but not to the extent of losing the reader altogether.
I certainly don't want to put people off reading this book, as others may be able to gain more from it than I did. I am definitely happy I read it, and I'm hoping to appreciate the next installment just that little bit more.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,921 reviews3,402 followers
June 15, 2021
This is a re-read for me but the first time I listened to the author read the story to us.

September is a twelve-year-old girl from Omaha whose father has gone off to war and whose mother has to work in a plane factory for the war effort. One day, she is taken to Fairyland by the Green Wind and the Leopard of Little Breezes.

Thus begins her great big adventure through the Lands of Autumn, the city of Pandaemonium, a very unique Bath House and many other wonderful places with such quirky inhabitants like Longitude and Latitude, a book-loving Wyvern, witches and the dangerous Marquess. The latter threatens to make life quite unbearable for the inhabitants of Fairyland (even more than she already has) if a certain talisman isn't retrieved for her. So yes, this is a young girl sent on a quest through a magical land.

But if you think this is a run-of-the-mill story, you better think again. Not only is the author's writing style flowery and utterly gorgeous, the adventure itself is quirky fun that has one yearn to be invited to Fairyland as well (despite the dangers). To say nothing of the lovely characters that just warm the cockles of one's heart.

For a more detailed look at the story, check out my review of the hardcover. It also contains a closer look at my favourite parts of the story (I must have quoted half the book *lol*).

Now, as I said, this time I listened to the audiobook. While I wasn't utterly enraptured by Valente's reading, it was quite formidable all the same. Her kid will be spoilt silly what with his mom reading these great tales out loud. Though it will be quite interesting to compare her reading skills to her partner's, who will be reading the later volumes (he's a professional audiobook narrator, actor and whatnot).

A fantastic start to what I already know is a superb journey through one of the best magical lands in literature (I'm NOT exaggerating). Let yourself be swept away!
Profile Image for Maureen.
507 reviews4,200 followers
January 24, 2016
This book definitely took me a LONG WHILE to get into. It was a 3 star book up until the last few chapters. I loved the imagination and the emphasis on important things like engineering, problem solving, and bravery!
At first I didn't love it because 1) overhyped and 2) the writing. It felt really pretentious at first but once I got used to it and kind of accepted it in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way it was more enjoyable! I was meh on the book as a whole until those last few chapters and then OH MY HEART.
September is a wonderful heroine and the world building and writing really is something beautiful after you get used to it.
It definitely wasn't one of my all time favorite books ever but it was really enjoyable! I wasn't going to read the rest of the series until those last few chapters, but now I think I'll eventually check them out. :)
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,052 followers
February 9, 2016
I am a bit sad that I cannot rave about this book as so many others are doing (including two of my heroes, Patrick Rothfuss and Neil Gaiman). I just liked it a normal amount. The story was sweet, the writing was good, it had charm but it never grabbed me totally and it did not stay with me after I put it down. So a good book but not a brilliant one for me.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
859 reviews2,178 followers
January 5, 2015
To Embrace or Turn Away?

“It would have been so much easier to stay in that unhappiness. But like September, I had to say yes to a more extraordinary world, no matter how frightening it was…

“I wanted to create a book about saying yes to magic, about seeing a new way of living and embracing it instead of turning away…

“When I was quite little, maybe four or five, my mom woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to put my bathing suit on. We went outside, and laid in lawn chairs under the full moon. She made me a cup of juice with an umbrella in it. She said we were going to get a moon tan, and in the morning, she told me my skin looked silver. It was such a magical moment.”

Catherynne M. Valente (from the Questions for the Author)


The Girl with an Orange Dress and Lantern

September is an ill-tempered and irascible twelve year old girl who is very tired of her parents’ house (if that’s not too impossible to imagine).

The Green Wind offers her the chance to ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the Perverse and Perilous Sea that borders on Fairyland. She must then make her own way through that part of Fairyland called Pandemonium.

“Oh, yes,” responds September (if that’s not too impossible to imagine).

September embarks on her journey in an orange dress:

“She liked anything orange: leaves; some moons; marigolds; chrysanthemums; cheese; pumpkin, both in pie and out; orange juice; marmalade. Orange is bright and demanding. You can’t ignore orange things.”

You could say the same about September: she’s bright and demanding, and you can’t ignore her.

The Perverse and the Perilous

Like Alice, and as promised by the Green Wind, September encounters the Perverse and the Perilous, without the comfort of her parents.

She has to journey inwards, into the darkness, into the black, into the subconscious world, where allegorically she confronts the challenges of puberty that await any adolescent (equipped with an orange lantern, of course, but hamstrung by a missing shoe).

She wishes and wills her way through Fairyland, in a ship of her own making (if that’s not too impossible to imagine), and eventually arrives back home where she awakes in her armchair just as her mother returns from work.

The Every Little Thing That Only Children Can See

Fortunately, September’s mother, like all busy mothers, “cannot see every little thing” and remains oblivious to the adventure her daughter has just undertaken.

Because September has managed so well herself, all her mother has to do is smile and bundle her off to bed, “snug and whole and warm.”

A Note and a Nice Glass of Milk for the Author

Valente spins her magic tale with beautiful pacing, and a love of colours and sounds and words and worlds, both congruous and incongruent.

It’s a tale that will appeal to 12 year olds, parents of 12 year olds, and anybody else who hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be 12 or ill-tempered and irascible.
December 9, 2011
Reading Catherynne M. Valente is a unique experience. Her writing is full of magic and imagination. It doesn't always make 'sense', but it feels right. The child in me who never grew up, who loves fairy tales, lands of magic, mythical creatures, and folklore, ate up this story like the most scrumptious dessert. I listened to this on audio, and at first, I wasn't sure how well it would work. There are a lot of concepts, and they don't tie together in a straightforward fashion at first glance. If other readers are like me, I'd encourage you not to give up on it if it doesn't catch you right away on first listen. Initially, I felt that Ms. Valente didn't quite feel comfortable reading her story. However, that changed, and she seemed to get into the flow of it, using different voices, timbres, and cadences for the various characters. I could feel how much she loved this story she had written, and the characters within.

This novel is one that both kids and grown-ups with a love of fantasy and make-believe tales would love. It's a story of a young girl who is very, very brave, strong-minded, determined, but with a very big heart for a kid (who are considered to be mostly heartless, according to the narrator). She goes to Fairyland on a romp, to escape the reality of a mother who works all the time and a father who was shipped off to war. Feeling alone and too different from the other kids she went to school with, she longs for adventure and a place where normal isn't the ideal. That's when she gets swept off to Fairyland and becomes a champion for this place of magic. And we are along for the journey.

At times, I got a bit confused with the narrative, because it's not exactly a linear story. Fairyland isn't a place that always makes sense, and that could make for strange listening when I was focused on driving or getting where I was going. If the reader embraces that this isn't that kind of novel, it makes for a very satisfying reading experience. Just immersing oneself in this marvelous world where anything is possible is gratifying.

This book is suitable for a young audience, but there are elements that feel pretty sophisticated, if one is older and catches the subtext. Some younger readers might not get all those references, but that's okay. I think it's fine for them to grasp an understanding of the story at their own level. There is some violence and dark subject matter, but the message of self-sacrifice, determination, friendship, and love are very good elements for kids to experience.

At one point, I thought I'd have to take off half a star because of getting lost and things slowing down a bit, but the overall beauty and power of this story requires a five star rating for me. I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy mythopoeic/folklore-rich fantasy novels, young and older.
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