The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente (2011, Feiwel and Friends, middle grade/young adult, 256 pages).
In this lovely fairy tale, a twelve-year old girl named September is whisked off from Omaha, Nebraska to Fairyland by the Green Wind. Accompanied by a most charming Wyverary (child of a library father and a Wyvern mother), September journeys in classic fairyland adventure style from one wondrous encounter to the next (the herd of wild velocipedes, the marvellous baths of the heartbroken soap golem, the land where it is always autumn, and much more).
But as she travels, things get darker. This fairyland is a place where things have gone badly awry under the rule of the Marquess, she of the fabulous hat and seemingly absolute power. The Wyverary's wings, and those of all flying creatures, have been chained, and this is just one of the Marquess' oppressive edicts.
Each choice September makes leads her deeper and deeper into an adventure with Consequences. She is not a Chosen One, but when, toward, the end of the book, she is offered the chance to simply say goodbye to the story she's become part of (a story that's going not well at all), she has to decide if she will choose to stay, to fight for her friends, and for fairyland itself...
This is a lovely book for those who love words, who love pictures made in their minds of wonderful things. Those who crave the toothsome joy of thought-provoking escapism will find themselves well satisfied.
"...September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying." (page 51) And this makes September, the titular Girl of this story, the ideal reader for her own adventure, for this is what Valente's words do, as she tells a story that is at once as simple as can be, but which has a tremendous sweetness of depth and caring.
On the other hand, those who find intrusive narrators vexing might well be a bit put-off, because such intrusions do happen here, and they do underline the fact that one is Reading a Story. This makes the experience one of engaged consciousness, as opposed to one of unbroken readerly immersion (does that make sense?). I didn't have a problem with it here, although with other books I've found it annoying.
The Girl Who... is evocative (as others have pointed out) of other classic journeys in fairyland (Alice, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Wizard of Oz); I think it might be closest in feel to The Neverending Story (but I like this one lots more--it has much more zest). It is being marketed as YA, but for no particular reason that I can think of, other than that Valente is known for her adult books, and those readers might balk at being asked to read a children's book.
There are illustrations at the start of each chapter by Ana Juan, but I think they are scary. I don't like oversized heads. You can look at the art in more detail via Macmillan, where there's lots of bonus material.
And finally, here's a particular small thing I appreciated: September's mother (who works in a WW II airplane factory, while her father is fighting in Europe) is very much present in her daughter's thoughts (not excessively, but enough to make her part of September's story). Even though we don't meet her till the very end, she became very dear to me--I can't find the exact quote, but there's one brief mention of the very brave and cheerful face she puts on to friends and neighbors, so brave, despite how tired she is, that they do not offer casseroles. I find this immensely piquant.
Thanks to the publishers and to Zeitghost Media, I have the opportunity to give away a copy of this book-- please leave a comment by noon EST on June 30 (North America only). Do enter to win (here and at all the other blogs giving it away this week) --it is really a lovely book.
It is also the only book to win the Andre Norton Award (the young readers version of the Nebula) before it was published--Valente wrote it first as an on-line book, which was then picked up by its current publisher.