By Elizabeth Wroten
Middle Grade Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…
On 27, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
I need to start by saying: OMG, this is the world’s longest title. It is also a little pretentious and very indicative of how the book goes. Which is whimsically, with a good vocabulary and just a little pretentiousness. In the best possible way.
It took me awhile to get into this one. At least the first 50 pages, if not more. The language and syntax initially made the story feel like it was trying very hard. I can’t say if that stopped eventually or I just got into the rhythm of the book, but I was sucked in to the point of wanting to finish. The book does have an excellent use of language going for it, which is partially to blame for the slow start. Is widdershins a word? Yes (it means counterclockwise, but sounds so much better), but it feels a bit arcane like some of the other vocabulary and syntax. To be clear the slow start and old fashioned vibe are not a count against the book, it just took me longer to move through it.
Fortunately both the characters and plot make you want to stay with the book. September is just a regular girl with a lot of doubt about why she ended up on this adventure. She meets a lot of characters like a trio of witches who explain what witches actually do (see the future), a cantankerous gnome, the green wind who is very fond of September, a leopard, a Wyvern whose father is a library and so he calls himself a Wyverary. The cast of characters alone is quite creative and most are good hearted or interesting. September decides to help one of the witches retrieve her spoon from the Marquess, the new ruler of Fairyland who rules with an iron fist, and this sets off a chain of events that pull September deeper and deeper into the troubles of Fairyland. She also becomes more attached to the friends she has made and more determined to help them.
The comparisons I’ve seen to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are apt, but at times, especially toward the beginning, it felt like the book was trying to be Alice which just made it feel contrived. On the other hand, it clearly wasn’t Alice. For starters September had a lot more presence of mind and was less of a ditz than Alice. September also makes friends and does things out of the goodness of her heart. To me, the adventure and language brought the book My Father’s Dragon to mind.
The difference between these, besides length and complexity, was how dark Circumnavigated was. September’s adventure is not all sunshine, rainbows, and friends. Things end well enough, but it is not without some unhappy revelations and discoveries. Things go awry in some awful ways and Valente doesn’t shy away from sharing them and how September reacts to them. September also becomes a bit contemplative about her situation at home with a mother who is constantly at work and a father who has disappeared to the war, a father who volunteered to disappear.
The book may appeal to upper elementary students, but it would take a strong reader to get through it or a highly motivated/interested one. The reading level was surprisingly low, but the vocabulary and sentence structure made it feel more difficult. (Or maybe that was just me?) I would suggest it as a good read aloud, especially for parents looking for a book that would appeal to them too. Otherwise this one is good for kids who like adventure, quirk, and whimsy. Readers who like twists on fairy tales may also find something to enjoy in the mythical creatures, witches, and September’s quest.
There was a swoony bit right at the end. September has traveled with Saturday through much of her adventure. As a marid he experiences time differently, all at once and not chronologically. He explains that marids know to get married when they start seeing their children around and they find their spouse based on who their children look like. Just before September is whisked back home, Saturday asks if she saw their daughter. I think the anticipation of them falling in love in future books (there are two more in the series) is really sweet.