Why I Read It:
I didn't hear about The Girl Who Circumnaviguated Fairyland
until shortly before its release in a hardback edition this year (prior to that, it had all been published online.) All the reviews I've read for this have been positive; The Book Smugglers even gave it a perfect score (!!!). It also helped that the premise sounded very promising. I've been wanting to read Valente for years (I even own both volumes of The Orphan Tales in my TBR), so when this was selected for calico_reaction's book club for December, I was ecstatic.
Ack, there's so much I want to talk about here. I hope I can be coherent when I do so and not come off as rambly or devolve into fangirlyness, because truth be told, I absolutely loved this book. I never doubted why people loved Cat Valente (her works seem like my cup of tea) but I had yet to see it first hand -- now I have, and oh me oh my! I have fallen in love.
First thing's first -- the writing. I've seen numerous reviewers basically call Valente something of a wordsmith and I can see why. This woman obviously KNOWS the english language very well and uses it to such great effect. This novel also have a very Lewis Carroll/Alice in Wonderland feel to it (which I think I'm rightfully assuming was done on purpose), what with all the made up words, as well as having the residents of Fairyland logically argue over illogical things. It was just all so damn *charming* that I found myself grinning after reading only a handful of pages.
One of the best things about this novel is the cross-over appeal I believe it has age-wise. I can see 7-12 year olds eating this stuff up because of the imagination and whimsical-ness of Fairyland, but it has just as much, if not more, appeal to older readers who are familiar with children's fantasy texts such Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. This story has a level of awareness that isn't over-encumbering -- it's never like "LOOK AT ME I'M AT A FAIRYTALE DID YOU SEE THAT ALLUSION AREN'T I CLEVER!? -- as well as a mix of the old with the new. It feels familiar in how it follows fairytale tropes, but it infuses enough modernity into it as well that it also manages to feel fresh and new at the same time. I can't really explain it better than that because it's honestly so subtle that it's hard to put your finger on exactly HOW Valente does it.
Valente also got the characters spot-on. Characters of course embody certain tropes of the fantasy genre and Valente embraced them wholeheartedly. My favorite was definitely September: she starts off as a kind of bratty character, but only so much as is normal for someone her age. She's never *unlikable* and by the end of the book she's absolutely lovable and there's a very visible growth in her character from the beginning of the novel compared to the end. My second favorite character (almost on par with September) was The Marquess. I was curious to know her story and how she overthrew the previous and loved ruler of Fairyland and I was so pleasantly surprised by how Valente spun that tale. It was so tragic and so sad and it really made you feel for her, despite her being the villain. It elevated her from being the typical cookie-cutter villain that's evil for the sake of being evil.
On a last note, I want to make a brief mention of the illustrations. Every chapter has a gorgeous illustration by the artist Ana Juan and they are absolutely gorgeous. They fit the feel and atmosphere of the story and complement it perfectly.
Final Judgment: This is a gem of a novel. I think Neil Gaiman said it perfectly when he stated that this novel is "glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian Fairy Tale". It's crossover appeal in age groups make it a fun and whimsical read for children while being wholly enjoyable for adults as well, especially those familiar with classic children's fantasy. The writing is exquisite and I can see why people swoon over Valente's prose; she has a mastery of the English language that allows her to weave and stitch words together in such a way that resounded with me (and many others). This most definitely will NOT be my last Valente. I am now determined to read her backlist, and I'll also eagerly be anticipating the planned sequel for this novel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
, slated for release sometime in 2012.