The Girl Who Circumnavigated FairyLand in a Ship of Her Own Making

My copy of this book smells like leather and smooth electronic pages, which is a rather poetic way of saying it smells like my kindle case. I think I am going to buy this book in it’s hard copy as well because I loved it in a way I have not loved a book in a very long time.


I have a long running love of Alice in Wonderland but I have to say that Catherynne Valente’s heroine September has completely eclipsed my beloved Alice in complexity and spunk. September is a 12 year old girl this 30 year old woman found herself inspired by as she journeyed through an exceptional landscape trying to find out where and how she belonged in it. 


September’s incredible journey begins when she is washing dishes and the Green Wind, astride his leopard, arrives at her kitchen window. With this unique invitation September begins her  adventure:


“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders Fairyland?…”


September does not need to be asked twice to be whisked away from her dreary midwestern life. Once she arrives in Fairyland incredible and complex characters and loyal friends populate her journey. Valente imbues her whimsical characters with familiar traits  without robbing them of their fantastic qualities. It gave me the feeling that I could run into a changeling at my local grocery store or  find a Wyvern in a local bookstore.


 There are dark twists as September begins to understand soon after her arrival that there is a dark force at work in the form of the ruler of Fairyland, a young girl known asThe Marquess.September is soon occupied with helping the creatures of Fairyland with the troubles the Marquess has brought into their lives. 



September’s story is not only the physical quest to save Fairyland and her new friends, it is the emotional awakening of a girl discovering her capacity to love and endure.


Valente has the enviable ability to write true and powerful prose in the midst of a fantasy. I will let her work speak for itself. Here are some of my favorite pieces of prose  from the book (no spoilers!):


It will be hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s wonders that I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.”


When you were born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough fro anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you are half-grown your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living.”


Oh September. Such lonely, lost things you find on your way. It would be easier, if you were the only one lost. But lost children always find each other, in the dark, in the cold. It is as thought they are magnetized and can only attract their like.”



Valente should be praised for her lexicon like usage of fairytale creatures from all parts of the world. I had to pause at several points in the story to look up what creatures such as “Marids” were. I loved increasing my knowledge of fairytale folk!


This book did what I ask of all of my favorite books: completely transported me. Catherynne M. Valente has an avid new fan in yours truly. I would recommend this book for older children (fifth grade and up) due to a few graphic scenes. I would REALLY recommend you read it first and decide if you want to share it with your favorite child!