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The Girl Who...

Posted by Steve the Bookstore Guy On Friday, July 15, 2011

The first thing I want to do is apologize for shortening the title of this review. The full title of Cathrynne M. Valente's latest novel is THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING. A title like that--though completely fantastic--just doesn't fit well on the title line of our blog entries.

This was my first foray into the works of Cathrynne M. Valente. It seems like whenever I would turn around someone (usually our resident reviewer, Shawn) would be saying how incredible a storyteller and writer Valente is. A guy like me can only take so much of that kind of hype before he gives in. Unfortunately reading an author's work based off that kind hype can also lead to letdowns--it has happened to me more times than I can count. I was worried. Luckily for me (and for all you discerning readers out there), it seems that everything people are saying about Valente is true. She is amazing.

With THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING (originally an online-only work), I knew within two pages that I was going to love the book. It's just one of those things, and I know that other people have experienced this just like I have. With THE GIRL WHO..., I automatically felt like I was reading a comfortable, classic fairytale. I was reminded of Grim's Fairytales, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland all at once.

THE GIRL WHO... is about a twelve year-old girl named September who is whisked away to Fairyland. Her initial quest is to retrieve a witch's spoon from Fairyland's new dictator, the Marquess. As the story progresses, however, September questions what kind of fairytale she is actually in. She questions what part she is actually playing in the story.

I'll be honest here, I feel completely inadequate even attempting to explain how amazing of a writer Valente is. After the first page, I wanted to read this book aloud--just the style of if makes me want to rush out and buy an audio version. Not only does Valente's writing make 95% of the other authors in the world seem downright average, but the voice she gives to the narrator of the story is absolutely perfect. I am still a bit stunned by just the way the novel was told, and by how clever the writing is in THE GIRL WHO... She can switch effortlessly from whimsical to disturbing. This Fairyland isn't all gumdrops and kisses. It has that Grim's Fairy Tales dark undercurrent.

And the thing is, this is supposedly a YA novel.

If THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING really is YA, it is probably the most well written YA novel ever, and probably the best YA novel I have ever read. I personally felt like this was an adult novel hiding behind the best YA disguise ever created. And really, doesn't that kind of appeal make this novel even better? This is a novel that instantly makes you want to curl up in your favorite chair, drink some hot chocolate, and completely lose yourself.

I wish more than anything that I could talk about the ending of this story. I think it is the ending that really shows Valente's skill for writing. This isn't just a fairytale. It is so much more than that. Treat yourself to a hardcover copy of THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, and put it right next to those classic works of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum.

Will I read another novel by Valente? Yes. All of them.

Recommended Age:
Language: None
Violence: True fairy tales have some grim and disturbing stuff in them. Valente's fairytale is no different
Sex: None

Drop by Valente's site and let her know how awesome she is:

Also, I'd be doing the novel, Valente and her illustrator a disservice if I didn't mention the amazing Ana Juan illustrations. A fairytale like this deserves illustrations, and Ana Juan's are absolutely spot-on. Every chapter of the novel begins with a new illustration. The inclusion of illustrations make everything about this novel better.


  1. Anonymous Said,

    Although I've not yet read "The Girl Who. . .", I've read a handful of other Valente and loved all of them. And not feeling adequate to review her stuff? I sympathize. she's such an incredible writer, with a poetic, almost sing-song style voice, i don't even feel like I'm reviewing a book. ahhh, welcome to the wonderful world of Valente. welcome home.

    Posted on July 15, 2011 at 6:13 PM

  2. Vanessa Said,

    I bought this for my daughter's 13th birthday this past January, and we both read it at the same time and loved it. It took her a few chapters to get into it because it has that dense fairytale tone to it. But she got hooked and especially loved September's sidekicks. I love Valente's beautiful prose and sly storytelling. I hope she does more YA.

    Posted on February 13, 2012 at 2:18 PM


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