Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Posted December 23, 2013 by Debby in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Series: Fairyland #1
Published by Feiwel & Friends on May 10th, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 247
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

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.

3.5 Stars

When I first heard of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, a title that is far too long to keep writing full out and which I thus fondly dub “the first Fairyland book”, I instantly thought I had to have it. The title was too quirky to pass up, it had illustrations, and good reviews from friends. And certainly it was a most enjoyable read.

What you’ll immediately be struck with in reading this book is the beautiful writing and imaginative storytelling. Particularly for middle grade, this is a rather rare find. But right off the bat I could imagine that in 50 years or so, this series would be regarded as a modern classic. It certainly has a fairy tale-like quality. If you’re after beautiful prose, definitely consider this short but sweet book. However, the writing can be quite dense as well. I was expecting this to be a quick and easy read – the kind where you can almost just turn your brain off and put on the cruise control. But it wasn’t really like that. The beautiful writing did take some effort and brain power to digest. That doesn’t take away from its beauty though.

Fans of Alice in Wonderland would absolutely feel right at home in this story. The type of world is rather similar, with every creature you can imagine and a few you would never think off. As our protagonist, September, explores this world, she encounters lots of quirky characters and has wonderful adventures. The level of detail and originality was quite surprising but of course in the best possible way. Again, not necessarily something I expected from a middle grade novel.

The illustrations were also a wonderful addition to this cute little story. Each chapter has an illustration at the beginning, the style of which I just love, and the chapter titles are also adorable. They tend to spoil the events of the chapter, but also increase your interest and excitement to read what happens next.

But. Of course, there is a but. Though I admit that the writing was beautiful and the world was original and exciting, I wasn’t as charmed with this book as I expected to be. This is partly due to how slowly it read, as I was hoping for a quick read at the time. But also, I didn’t feel a strong connection to September. I missed her personality. While I loved the Wyverary, her dragon-like companion, and many of the other characters, including the Green Wind, September was extremely bland. In a movie, I’d picture her like Bella Swan, sadly, with one facial expression. I felt no warmth from her. And I would have expected a 12 year old to be way more impressed and fascinated by the amazing world she fell into. But she was just like, “Okay, sure,” to everything and hopped from one adventure to the next. I wish her character had more depth, because that’s really what ultimately kept me from connecting to this book.

Summing Up:

I definitely enjoyed this read and think that it will be massively successful for a long time to come. Catherynne M. Vealente’s writing is definitely beautiful and deserves a ton of praise, and the world that she created is absolutely enthralling. However, I did have trouble connecting to the book, and it wasn’t as “quick and easy” a read as I expected. But for fun adventures and beautiful prose, I will definitely be continuing with the series.

GIF to me straight!

giphy (2)

Recommended To:

Fans of Alice in Wonderland.

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3 responses to “Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. Fans of Alice in Wonderland, check.
    Fairy tale-like, beautiful prose and illustrations, this book definitely sounds like something I will enjoy. It’s a shame that it was hard to feel anything for September, but I hope you’ll be able to connect more with her in the next book.

  2. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this book (and series). At least the majority of the book was enjoyable to you, even if you weren’t the biggest fan of September herself. That is frustrating when you can’t connect to protagonists, but maybe that’ll change as the series continues? Still, I’m definitely looking forward to spending time reading this “modern classic.” 🙂

  3. I’ve been mightily intrigued by this book, ever since I first heard of it! It sounds like a fanciful, fun story, and I’m always in the market for those. It’s especially appealing to me now that you’ve mentioned how beautifully it’s written and that it includes illustrations!