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 is one of those books that make an impact the moment you hear the title. You immediately wonder what it’s all about. I saw this one pop up in several Best of 2011 lists end of last year so I’ve been planning to read it for a while now. The perfect opportunity arrived when read-along buddies Janice and Holly agreed that this would be our next pick.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

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.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a delightful read. If I was the type of reader who highlighted books then my copy would have colorful pages. I wanted to take note of so many of the passages that I liked. This is the type of novel that has lyrical writing that just sweeps you away. I’m definitely a fan of that kind of writing but there were times when it felt a bit much. There were moments when I had to read this in bits and pieces instead of swallowing everything in one big gulp because I felt like I could use a break. In a way, I wasn’t as engrossed in the story as I wanted to be. I still enjoyed reading about September’s adventures in Fairyland though. September is a pretty easy character to like – a reader craving to be part of something bigger than what she feels like is a very ordinary life. I guess my expectations were just a bit high after everything that I’ve heard about the book. Since I loved how unique the writing is, I thought it would be a good idea to give non-spoilery samples:

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

*nods head* Here’s another one I really liked:

“For the wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets.”

Wishes that become regrets, I think that’s beautiful. Last but not the least:

“Temperament, you’ll find, is highly dependent on time of day, weather, frequency of naps, and whether one has had enough to eat.”

Love that last bit because that is so me. My mood is dependent on whether I’ve had enough food and sleep. Also, if I’m reading a good book or not. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is reminiscent of the Narnia books, Alice in Wonderland and other books that follow the same format – a human child gets whisked off to a magical land, where he or she has to go on a quest although September’s story has its own twists and turns. This book is also September’s coming-of-age story, how she learns to view the world in a different light as she matures. While I did find Fairyland fascinating, I was hoping that the story would have something different to surprise me and I was starting to think that it wasn’t going to happen until revelations near the end resulted in events that I didn’t expect. I apologize for being vague but I finished reading the book on a high note and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel. If it was available in the library or any of the bookstores that I’ve visited, I would have grabbed a copy of it already. Even though this one didn’t make it to my list of favorites for this year, I very much enjoyed reading it and I get the feeling that most fantasy readers will feel the same way about it. I feel like we made a good choice when we picked this to read together.

Fairyland chapter illustration

One of the chapter illustrations in the hardcover edition

Reviews by readalong buddies:
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog

18 thoughts on “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

  1. Pingback: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente | Janicu's Book Blog

  2. I had a lot of the same issues you did with this book. The writing did feel a little bit too fussy for me to begin with, but by the end (and after those surprises that you mentioned), I was pretty sold. That ending blew me away – it had so much more depth than I was expecting. The second book is so wonderful (and it’s a lot more grey). I hope you can find it soon! Great review, Chachic.

    • Catie, so good to know that you felt the same way I did about this book! That ending was a pleasant surprise, wasn’t it? I didn’t see those twists coming. Oooh so the second book is even better than this in terms of the depth of the story? I guess that’s expected as September grows older. I hope I find a copy soon. 🙂

  3. I love my readalong buddies. 🙂 I like how we all focused on slightly different things in the story in our reviews. (You and I chose the same quote about stories!). Yeah, I don’t know if it was a favorite, but it made me think. Not quite what I was expecting but in a good way.

    • Aww I love our readalongs too. It makes me happy to discuss books with you girls, even if we don’t end up loving what we decide to read. Yep, I do agree that it’s the kind of book that will make you think. Maybe that’s another reason why I kept pausing while reading, had to absorb the writing. I really liked how that ending surprised me.

  4. Oh Chachic, I like this review! Yes I agree, sometimes the writing is over-the-top. Some chapters/ideas work better than others. I remember having such a feeling of accomplishment when I managed to finish one measly chapter sometimes. It took effort. After Catie’s comment I’m really excited about the sequel. One of these days I’m going to pick it up. Hopefully real soon.

    • Yes, the writing worked in some of the chapters but not in all of them. I was pretty slow when it came to reading this – it’s a good thing there were beautiful chapter illustrations that added to my enjoyment of the story. Plus, it’s always nice to read a book along with both you and Janice because we get to discuss the details instead of just general comments.

      Looking forward to our next readalong! 😛

  5. This one reminds me of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy (because of the coming-of-age theme and otherworldly adventure and stuff). And I share your penchant for books teeming with lyrical writing that doesn’t overwhelm. ^_^ By the way, the title was positively shocking.

    • Hmm I loved His Dark Materials but I think the reading level for that is more mature than this one? But you’re right, the similarities that you mentioned are present in both. I do love lyrical writing but it has to be done well, otherwise I’d have a hard time getting into the story.

  6. I don’t usually go for YA stuff, but I love Valente’s Fairyland books to pieces. She has this way, of making these over the top and ridiculous metaphors, about stories, and secrets, and children, and growing up, and everything, and they make no sense at all. And then you read the sentence again, and it’s the truest thing you ever read.

    it’s easy to feel buried by her prose style. her books can sometime eat the reader, instead of the other way around.

    I was trying to tell my Mom about this book on the phone the other day (it took about 10 minutes for her to understand the title!), and when she asked me why I liked the book I said if I’d read this when I was in high school I would have been a literature major in college. Mom knew it must have had one heck of an impact on me, since as a teen I always hated English class.

    • Redhead, I do agree with everything that you said about her writing. I love how to described it as something than can swallow the reader instead of the other way around.

      Oh wow, you found the book that inspiring? You should let Cat Valente know about that! Isn’t amazing when you find a novel that makes you fall in love like that? I need to find something like that soon. I loved English class when I was in school, it was a welcome break from all the other subjects that I had to take (I attended a special science high school so we had tons of math and science classes).

  7. Hello there! Just two days ago, I finally mustered enough courage to make my very first book blog. So, yeah, though I know I sometimes write crappy reviews about a certain book that I have read, I still couldn’t help but blog about them 🙂 So I’m looking for a fellow Filipino book blogger wherein I can share some of my book rants with. 🙂

    If you have the time, please do visit my blog:

    Thanks in Advance!

    Much Love,

  8. I’m so glad you ladies picked this one up together! I feel like I had a very similar reaction to this one as you did. I think I expected to fall into it, but it didn’t end up being as easy as I anticipated. It was a lyrical and wonderful read, but not a quick and easy one by any means. I still haven’t read the next one (though I’ve had it since BEA!), but I hope it’s just as or even more wonderful.

    • Heidi, good to know you felt the same way! I was starting to feel bad that I didn’t love it as much as I expected but looks like I’m not the only one who had this reaction. Maybe that’s why you haven’t picked up the second book yet? I’m interested in it but still haven’t seen copies here in Singapore (both in the library and in bookstores).

      • Yeah, it probably is why I haven’t read the 2nd. I just feel like I SHOULD love it more than I do. I do really like it, it’s beautiful, but I think I expected captivating charm, and it wasn’t as easy as that.

      • I saw the sequel when I dropped by the bookstore the other day but it’s really expensive! 28SGD (about 22USD) so I didn’t get it. Maybe I can try to grab a copy when I go home in December or wait for a sale here. Books in Singapore are super expensive.

  9. Pingback: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making | One More Page

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