Published by Feiwel and Friends on May 10th, 2011
Genres: fantasy, middle grade, retellings
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“One of the most extraordinary works of fantasy, for adults or children, published so far this century.”—Time magazine, on the Fairyland seriesTwelve-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 author Catherynne M. Valente 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. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Fiction title for 2011.
This one was a long time coming. I often saw this book pop up in my feeds, and everyone seemed very enchanted with the story. I feel a bit torn on my final rating. On one hand, it was a very different and beat-to-its-own-drum type of writing. Taking a chance generally scores well with me. However, the lack of pacing for the first part of the book and some characters I could have done without left me feeling a bit cheated.
For the most part, I did have a nice experience with this book. I actually enjoyed September’s bittersweet personality. It is a rarity to see a book written from a child’s POV and actually feel like you are in the shoes of an honest-to-goodness child. I appreciated Valente’s hints at some very adult-like occurrences happening inside of September’s world, such as her soldier father and her Rosie the Riveter mother. The youthful main character seemed to be on the outside while the reader understood the subtle message delivered by the boastful narrator. Ell, the book-born Wyvern, added a special magical touch to the entire novel. The colorful descriptions and the oddity of characters was a pleasant reminder of traveling to lands created by imagination and childhood explanations. If you enjoyed The Phantom Tollbooth, then this one is going to be right up the same alley.
I must sadly admit that I did have to struggle through the first half of the book. While the descriptions and the people were highly entertaining and unique, I did feel that the first part was just a huge, wandering path to nothing in particular. I wasn’t sure what I was reading, and where the book was going. I also did not care a bit for Saturday, the emo-role male protagonist. If he had come in a bit sooner, I think it would have worked out for the better.
I am rushing a bit to my final say, because there is a reason I added a whole star to my rating (yes, I was going to give this book 3 stars, but I changed my mind). This portion might be a bit spoiler-inducing for some readers, so be warned:
I tend avoid spoiling anything, but I have to get this out of my head onto the screen, or paper, or whatever.
I think the last chapters of the book warrants this to be a possible future classic, because the moral of the story shook me up.
The reader finds out that the “villain” is indeed a recycled well-loved hero. The loss of the safety and the enchantment of Fairyland twisted the first good queen’s heart into a thing of darkness and caused her to become the ruin of the land she once ruled with kindness and goodness. The Marquess implemented adult restrictions on the land to bring order and sense to a mad world.
For those of us who lamented that symbolism is dead, then please rejoice this book.
Who of us here wish to escape back into our old childhood and relive the days when it took so little to be so good and so carefree? As adults, we can try to return back to the past and become immersed in the things and the state of mind that brought us bliss, but we can’t go back. A trip to the amusement park reminds us all of the steep price of food and the long lines at the rides. Watching cartoons comes with a small voice saying that you have other things to be doing. Dolls and toys become collectibles living inside the safe plastic homes of packaging.
Sure, we can try to go back. But we’re ruined and unwelcomed. Our adultism has already been set in place. We can’t be carefree anymore. No matter how good or bad, how smart or dim, how obedient or unruly we were as children, it amounts to the same – when our clock runs out, we are kicked out of childhood. Every single one of us. We need jobs and homes and food and love. Just like Mallow’s clock at the end, we can’t stay forever. We have to go back, and we’re not wanted back.
I cried because the heavy burden of a girl with her wonderment ripped out of her hands could be any one of us. A lye (lie) can bring us back, but we’re changed, and we are not the sweet little heroes of our childhood. We’re now the imposing adult figures who clamp dreams and restrict questions. We’re the villains now.
And it stung my heart to understand what the Marquess was feeling.
Overall – lovely writing, lovely message, a bit slow in some parts. I hope to read the sequel soon.