An ordinary September on a remarkable journey
In the barest sense, this is a fantasy book with all the elements you might expect, but as any happy reader knows, it is not the story that makes the book so much as how it is written. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a mouthful of a title, but the prose throughout this book is wonderful—a “mouthful” in the most satisfying sense. Award-winning author Catherynne M. Valente writes beautifully with a rich and deep vocabulary that is every bit as enjoyable as the plot of the story.
September, the 12-year-old protagonist, is a perfectly ordinary girl, bored with her perfectly ordinary life, who eagerly accepts the offer of the Green Wind to bear her away to Fairyland. Here she meets the creatures you would expect (witches, fairies, pookas) as well as many original ones, including a wyverary (a wyvern whose father is a library). In her quest for a witch’s stolen spoon, she is also sent by the evil Marquess to bring back a magical sword that only September can retrieve.
September wonders at one point if she is in a merry tale or a serious one, but the narrator cautions us that “no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move.” However, she will learn that the choices she makes have everything to do with how her life will unfold. When September first arrives in the land of Fairy, she sees signposts directing her to lose her way, lose her life, lose her mind or lose her heart. She chooses (sensibly, considering) to follow the path where she will lose her heart, and, as a reader, you will lose your heart as well as you revel in Valente’s writing. Recommend this book to advanced readers in middle school. They will appreciate the challenge and love the story.