Catherynne M. Valente: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland

valenteSoaredSeptember would be awfully crushed to hear us call her a liar, but it cannot be escaped that she and honesty had not got on well for some time.

This line, near the beginning of the book, marks something of a philosophical shift in this series. In the previous two books, September’s lies and rebelliously independent spirit have been presented, by and large, as positive qualities. She has saved her friends, succeeded against terrible odds, solved impossible riddles–returning home to her pink and yellow teacup life wiser and wilder than ever before.

This time, however, the colors on the teacups have faded–”worn almost to white”–and September is growing up. She is fourteen now; all around her, girls are taking an interest in boys and in making themselves beautiful. All September can think about, of course, is returning to Fairyland. Her preparations involve an inordinate amount of hard work: she is “quite fed up with the problem of having needs in Fairyland but no means.” So she works for her neighbors, doing whatever small tasks they will pay her for; collects the pennies and nickels and dimes in a large jar; and waits with increasing anxiety for her annual summons to Fairyland.

Alas, that ethic of hard work and responsibility turns on September. She’s becoming grown up now–mature–boring. And all of those childish behaviors that helped her succeed in the previous two volumes are now being challenged. She is no longer a Hero, but a Person of Low Reputation–an anarchist, a revolutionary, a hitchhiker, an official Criminal of the Realm. The Wind that fetches her away this time is the Blue Wind, much more sarcastic and cruel than the Green Wind who first introduced September to Fairyland. This Wind, completely unsympathetic, points out the many ways in which September is a spoiled, entitled, deceitful brat–reversing everything admirable from previous books, changing the tolerant standards of childhood to the much sterner views of an adult. It’s a startling shift; the reader is left as uncertain as September, questioning whether she is, in fact, worth rooting for.

September faces a range of considerably more adult problems this time around, including the need to sort out her relationship with her friend, Saturday the Marid. It’s dreadfully difficult to know that you’re going to have a child with someone–to see that very child before you’ve even grown up enough to conceive said child. But Marids are odd that way, living in and out of time as though it were a bizarre, Möbius-style tapestry.

The themes echoing through this book are tangled and complex, very fitting for adolescence: there is a constant questioning of morality–both September’s and that of other people. There is a constant challenging of established authorities; King Crunchcrab, whom September helped rise to power, is not acting the way she expected now that he is in charge. There is a multilayered call to respect people as individuals rather than trying to use them as tools, from September’s first encounter with Lineman Boomer to her final realization of what it meant when a pitchfork said No.

This is, in short, every bit as excellent and thought-provoking a book as the first two, with a hefty dose of bizarrity and good humor to leaven the mix. Once more, Valente has delivered a stunning, rich story sure to please. This book goes beside the other two in the series on my shelf of favorites to read and re-read on those slow, grey days when I need a big helping of whimsical magic to get me laughing again. I recommend this series without reservation to kids and grown-up kids alike.

In addition, this volume has a soundtrack by the ever-remarkable S.J. Tucker: the album Wonders was inspired by and created specifically for this book. The entire album can be found here–and can be listened to for free–do stop by and check it out! S.J.’s music is always a treat.

For our review of the previous two books in this series, step right over thisaway.

(MacMillan, 2013)

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