If there’s such a thing as a book that’s almost blindingly perfect, this is it. Like my daughter Sophie (or sons Noah, Jordan, Adam, and Travis), it stole and broke my heart for all the right reasons.
I don’t know how a writer like Catherynne Valente achieves the state of grace necessary to write like this, not only echoing Alice and Phantom Tollbooth and old fashioned non-treacly fairy tales that are moral and sly and funny and dark and light at once, but matching my emotional memories of those books. It cracks the door to fairyland in the first sentence. And it’s a beautifully made book, with illustrations that match the tone and the tale. The prose isn’t spare, not remotely–but good lord, if you love language and if nothing else want a master class in how to wield and weave it, read the book (that’s right, it’s a sword and a wrench and a loom). If you have children, you could do worse than read it out loud or, even better, steal bits and weave your own stories for them. It’s worked for me with 6 yo Sophie and 12 yo Noah. And if you see the ending coming–the real ending, on the very last page, which won’t resonate until you read every page that comes before it, you’re the better (and probably sadder) reader.
If you want a plot rehash, hit Amazon or Goodreads or similar sites. Some are insightful and some are just from people who miss being English majors. More than one wrote this mistake: for “9-12 year olds” or “for young adult readers.” Instead of “read this book the first time when you’re about 9, depending on who you are. Maybe younger. But if you stop at that age, you’ll miss all the good stuff.”
Note for people on a budget: Bookstores charge $25 or more for poorly bound books that’ll go spineless and jaundiced in 5 years or less. Fiewel and Friends printing is a beautiful hardback, with a thick slipcover and richly colored original illustration by Ana Juan (not some photoshopped photograph meant to create a “mood”), more sly illustrations by Ana Juan on the first page of each chapter, thick, acid-free vanilla-colored paper, and bright heavy stitching. It’s a book that says “I expect to be kept and read for a long time.” It’s full price is $17. You can get it on Amazon for $11. I usually hunt for the bargain. I paid full price for this one intentionally–it’s only a little bump to the author (I probably increased her royalty from 50 to 60 cents), but it was one way to say thanks.