The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
“There must be blood, the girl thought. There must always be blood. The Green Wind said that, so it must be true. It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them.”
September is a heartless girl, bored of her life, fed up with her mom who works in a factory all the time, and with her dad who left for war. So, when the Green Wind comes to abduct her to Fairyland, she doesn't even say goodbye, or leave a note. She must do favors for witches, befriend a wyverary (a wyvern whose father was a library), outwit the evil Marquess, and, as the title implies, circumnavigate fairy land after she looses her shadow and her heart.
This was an exceptional book, even more exceptional that it was juvenile fiction. It did not pull punches, either emotionally, complex-ily (if that is a word... meaning that it did not paint the world in black and white), and vocabularically.
It reads as a modern day Alice in Wonderland. September is just as curious, just as impertinent, and just as heartless as Alice, and she meets strange and fantastic things, like the herds of bicycles that roam the land, or the half-people who can only speak in complete sentences when joined together, discarded furniture that takes on a life of its own when it is 100 years old, or the land of Autumn.
While Alice simply wanders and has things happen to her, however, September struggles with morality in a morally grey world (does she aquiess to the evil queen to save her friends? Is the evil queen very different from herself?). There is a wonderful theme of what it is to be chosen and what it is to make a choice.
Early in the journey, she is given the choice to loose her way, lose her mind, or loose her heart. Since she was heartless, she chose to loose her heart. She managed quite well until she grew to deeply care for the friends she made. When she looses them, all hell breaks loose, and you can see what a twelve-year-old girl is really capable of.
This is not pretty Narnia adventure hardship. September must make a raft using her clothes and her hair so she stands naked and shorn against the elements. She bludgeons a fish to death out of desperation, and nearly die horribly several times to get where she needs to go, and even then, she has not faced the worst.
She is the embodiment of badass heroine who does what needs to be done and sacrifices what she has to to save the ones she loves.
It also make an incredible statement about regulation. The marquess has started to bring over rules and regulations to Fairyland to make it "safe" for children who cross over. But that is not the point of Fairyland. It must be dangerous and hard, so the children can emerge strong and confidant and brave. Same thing could be said with a lot of things in our world, including regulation of books and education.
I recommend this to everyone!
There are so many good quotes, I have to add this one at the bottom:
“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “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. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.”