Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. Illustrated by Ana Juan.    Love the title too

"... No one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. That is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble." (Pg. 36)

Warning: this is a very strange book and readers will pause many times throughout it and give it queer looks. For example, Fairyland has its own Parliament and agents. And shoes can talk. And to my happy surprise, big words are in it.

Having said that, it is also a brilliant book, well-paced and well-structured, with a good beginning and a fulfilling ending that leaves you with a thrill that tells you that you have just read a good book. I copied down a few quotes from it in my journal. Also the narrator was great.

I suppose I should tell you what this book is about.  It is about a girl who goes on an adventure in Fairyland to lose her heart, and may not be able to find her way back again, ever.

While it is a bit like Alice in Wonderland, I enjoyed it much better because I knew the context and it has more of an overall quest and the main character suffers much more than Alice did. The person who illustrated the book seemed to go for an Alice in Wonderland take, except some of the drawings were inaccurate.

It's also like the Phantom Tollbooth a little bit.

You never know what every character is really about, and I really liked that about this book. The Green Wind was my favorite character from the moment he showed up and started explaining the rules of Fairyland too quickly for September to remember them all.

It feels like a mix of Japanese and German fairy tale steeped in British tea and given intelligence with a side of mathematics. It is well-aware of itself and the questions it raises in our minds, and knows to address them when necessary. There are still questions I have, but, knowing this is only the first book of a series, I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest.

Over the course of many years I have developed a thankfulness for strange books, even the uncomfortably strange ones (to some extent). They keep me curious and remind me that the world is so big still. There were a few (little) things in the book I didn't like, but then this is Mrs. Vante's fairyland, not mine.

I'm very glad I read it because the author knows a lot about the mechanics of fairyland as a genre and it made me think about a lot of things in a new perspective. It doesn't talk down to readers but feels like an adult book disguised as a children's book. Those are my favorite kinds of books.

I recommend this to brave people who are interested in what the genre of fairy tales is really about.
Have you read or heard of it?  Does it sound interesting to you?


  1. This is on my to-read list! It sounds so fascinatingly brilliant!

    1. I hope you get to read it soon then! It was pretty cool.