Now that I’ve finished Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland and am out of its thrall, I wanted to note a few attributes that helped make it more than just a pretty face. If we were to liken it to a pretty face, it would be that of a deeply beautiful woman who’s seen more of the world than you or I can imagine–at least not since we were children–and still remembers it. (I’m also writing this post because I think the book deserves more than a gushing reaction, even if it’s brief.)
September, our heroine, is a child of Nebraska in a home broken by WWII–father serves on the European front and mother works days as a machinist. Father is offscreen and referenced only a few times. Love bonds mother and daughter and gets them through the days and nights. But it’s a sad life, so September is easily lured “down the rabbit hole” into a fairyland that’s under new management. (To say more gives away too much.)
Valente gives September the coldness and warmth and quickness of AnyChild and quickly sets her on a hero’s journey. Like Alice, she meets beings that in our world would be seen as dangerous or insane but in Fairyland fit right in and are sympathetic or limited by their natures (or by Nature). Or stock characters that she reblends in unique ways. (Like Tock in The Phantom Tollbooth.)
There’s blood–a surprising amount, and if I had to grumble it would be about how easily it’s shed without helping us feel the cost–at least during the shedding. Maybe the sudden moments of bloodshed are there to remind us how dark and sometimes visceral this story (and a child’s life) can be, or that it’s minor compared to the other difficulties characters face. A real old fashioned fairy tale but without the eye gouging. Without Valente’s language to light the way, many readers might set it aside. I think it was hard but necessary for her to write those parts–perhaps she composed (or edited) on the side of light exposition to keep the story moving and younger (or more delicate) readers (or listeners) from weeping or turning away before the end. This isn’t Tender Morsels. (I never wrote to ask her and am guessing.) Younger does not always mean delicate. September would not have turned away.
The ending is redemptive with pomegranate seeds as an honest sugar substitute. It fully deserves to never be followed by a sequel. (Although there’s a “prequel” available for free online reading, it won’t make sense without reading the novel first.)
Meant to say more and to say less, but ran out of time. I’ll let it hang on this for now.