The long, scientific monograph-worthy title of Catherynne Valente’s fantasy adventure reveals two points about the plot: a girl does something both marvelous and strange—and she has gumption. Stories about girls with gumption get me hooked every time and 12-yr-old September will need every ounce she possesses. At her age, I expect more than a few of us would have welcomed the novelty of an adventure via the old portal-at-the-back-of-a-wardrobe trick or, in September’s case, a seat on the back of a flying leopard, thoughtfully parked by the snappily-dressed Green Wind outside a convenient window, just as September tires of washing the pink-and-yellow teacups. As their journey starts, the Green Wind tells her about the Marquess who enforces Fairyland’s rules.
I am afraid that if you trample upon the rules, I cannot help you. You may be ticketed or executed, depending on the mood of the Marquess.” “Is she very terrible?” The Green Wind frowned into his brambly beard. “All little girls are terrible,”he admitted finally, “but the Marquess, at least, has a very fine hat.
So, without receiving much in the way of assurance, off they go. Naturally, the Green Wind hasn’t told September everything she needs to know and we choose to believe, as her mission becomes more complicated and more dangerous, that he has no real knowledge of what lies ahead of her.
One of those details omitted by the Green Wind posed a few humorously disconcerting moments for me. There are many ways to get into Fairyland but, essentially, you either fall into it somehow (remember the wardrobe?) or you are taken there, as September is, by a guide. The Fairyland folk refer to her as one of the “ravished”—the Green Wind explains all of this very nicely at the end of the story, but every time the word was used until then, I had a flash (ever so brief, mind you) of bare-chested men in swirling kilts and amply-filled lacy bodices. It becomes clear that the means of your arrival to Fairyland dictates much of how you’ll fare and, as it turns out, September’s status as ‘ravished’ is the better of two possibilities. The action races along; there is a stop in a wonderfully upholstered city and an amazing cast of characters (among them a dragon and a lamp) in a series of errands, misfortunes, and triumphs as September tries to do a good deed for a friendly witch. Did I mention the enchanted shoes? But Fairyland isn’t quite the place September imagined it would be: good Queen Mallow has disappeared and Fairyland under the Marquess’s reign has become a place of harsh laws and arbitrary punishment. September, to her great annoyance, may be the only one who can make it right again.
This is a wonderful read-aloud book that will inevitably remind you of a few classic favorites but with enough twist to make it all new again. Young readers will appreciate the range of oddities and, despite some dark moments, be reassured that everything works out in the end, though not without some sacrifice (sort of like life though it would be nice to be able to pick up a sceptre or two on a jeweled beach to help with expenses here, too). Here’s a great thing: the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, is already in your favorite bookstore.
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