So, I’ve recently introduced a series of guest posts which will ideally be posted every Wednesday giving bloggers and authors the chance to write about their favourite Young Adult novel. To kick things off, we have Mieneke from A Fantastical Librarian, an awesome blog that I highly suggest that you check out. Obviously, YFYAN stands for Your Favourite Young Adult Novel.
My favourite YA novel is Cathrynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. While technically also suitable to a middle grade audience, I’ve always thought of it as a YA novel. A quick synopsis of the novel, kept as spoiler-free as possible:
The Girl Who… is the story of September, a twelve-year-old girl, whose father is away fighting in the Second World War and whose mother is working in a factory. It’s a confusing time and September is often alone. When she is invited by the Green Wind to travel with him to Fairyland, she agrees with thoughtless alacrity and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, at least up until that point. She discovers that Fairyland is ruled by an evil overlord – or rather overlady – called the Marquess and only she can save Fairyland from her awful rule. So September sets out on a quest, in the course of which she not only meets some wonderful new friends, makes mistakes, and loses her shadow, but also finds her way, discovers her heart and learns about growing up. Accompanied by the wyverary A-through-L and the Marid boy Saturday, September travels the ranges of Fairyland, encountering wonders both enchanting and frightening. And all she experiences will, in the end, have to be enough to help her defeat the Marquess and not even the Green Wind knows whether she’ll have learned enough.
The Girl Who… is a classical ‘through the magic portal’-tale, in the tradition of Lewis, Carroll, Barry, and L. Frank Baum. Like Dorothy, Alice, Wendy, and the Pevensie children, September is swept away to a magical land, in this case by the Green Wind, the embodiment of said element, not an actual wind. Where Valente’s novel differs however is in its tone and its heroine. September is definitely more spice than sugar on the girl scale and she is far from the perfect paragons of girlhood that Wendy and Susan were portrayed to be. In fact she’s irascible and selfish. The narrator even refers to her as Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown after explaining how all children start out heartless and only because of this can they act like children. Her headstrong nature gets her into trouble more often than not, but she balances out her less pleasant characteristics with a strong sense of loyalty and a good heart. She does her best by her friends and if she makes a mistake, she tries to make up for it as best she can, but sometimes she can’t fix things; September shows us it’s alright not to be perfect. Its tone is different from the classical works due to its playfulness; the narrator breaks the fourth wall quite often and is never didactic or clearly trying to convey a message.
Apart from its heroine, its tone, and its wonderfully imaginative setting, what sets The Girl Who… truly apart from the other YA I’ve read is Valente’s exquisite writing. She doesn’t talk down to her audience, but she also makes it accessible for younger readers. She’s also quite creative with her words and creatures, giving them names that describe them to a tee, such as the wyverary A-through-L, Gleam, the little lantern, and a soap golem called Lye. Her work is made for reading aloud, with a cadence and flow that just rolls off the tongue. I found myself reading passages out loud to myself, just to hear how they sounded.
The Girl Who… is also a book that is quite suited to rereading. Even while leafing through my copy for this post I happened on word plays and references I hadn’t caught before. The echoes of the story’s themes can be traced more fully upon a reread as well. It’s a book that changes meaning with its reader’s age; as I described it in my review of the book: “Younger children will just see the exciting story, the quest September undertakes, while teens will perhaps see a little deeper into the story and see its wisdom about growing up. And for adults there are different layers again: the impact of the loss of a parent, how destructive our modern-day corporate and bureaucratic world is to a free spirit and that in the end life is all about losing and finding your way again, sometimes with the help of (unexpected) friends.”
All of the above makes The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making an amazing book, but what makes this fairy tale my favourite YA book is the fact that I can’t wait to read this with my girls when they are older. I want to read it to them and see their faces when they meet A-through-L, discover the Velocipedes and sing Death to sleep. Of course I want them to read all my other books too, but this one I want to share with them. And that is what makes The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making something rather special to me.
You can follow Mieneke on twitter: @pallekenl, and visit A Fantastical Librarian here. That’s it for now, but next Wednesday, we have Leo Cristea, who’ll be writing his blog post about his favourite YA novel for this time next week. If you’re interested in writing your own guest post on your favourite young adult novel (am taking Bloggers + Authors), you can check out more details here.