The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading Catherynne M. Valente is a unique experience. Her writing is full of magic and imagination. It doesn't always make 'sense', but it feels right. The child in me who never grew up, who loves fairy tales, lands of magic, mythical creatures, and folklore, ate up this story like the most scrumptious dessert. I listened to this on audio, and at first, I wasn't sure how well it would work. There are a lot of concepts, and they don't tie together in a straightforward fashion at first glance. If other readers are like me, I'd encourage you not to give up on it if it doesn't catch you right away on first listen. Initially, I felt that Ms. Valente didn't quite feel comfortable reading her story. However, that changed, and she seemed to get into the flow of it, using different voices, timbres, and cadences for the various characters. I could feel how much she loved this story she had written, and the characters within.
This novel is one that both kids and grown-ups with a love of fantasy and make-believe tales would love. It's a story of a young girl who is very, very brave, strong-minded, determined, but with a very big heart for a kid (who are considered to be mostly heartless, according to the narrator). She goes to Fairyland on a romp, to escape the reality of a mother who works all the time and a father who was shipped off to war. Feeling alone and too different from the other kids she went to school with, she longs for adventure and a place where normal isn't the ideal. That's when she gets swept off to Fairyland and becomes a champion for this place of magic. And we are along for the journey.
At times, I got a bit confused with the narrative, because it's not exactly a linear story. Fairyland isn't a place that always makes sense, and that could make for strange listening when I was focused on driving or getting where I was going. If the reader embraces that this isn't that kind of novel, it makes for a very satisfying reading experience. Just immersing oneself in this marvelous world where anything is possible is gratifying.
This book is suitable for a young audience, but there are elements that feel pretty sophisticated, if one is older and catches the subtext. Some younger readers might not get all those references, but that's okay. I think it's fine for them to grasp an understanding of the story at their own level. There is some violence and dark subject matter, but the message of self-sacrifice, determination, friendship, and love are very good elements for kids to experience.
At one point, I thought I'd have to take off half a star because of getting lost and things slowing down a bit, but the overall beauty and power of this story requires a five star rating for me. I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy mythopoeic/folklore-rich fantasy novels, young and older.
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