September, a normal 12-year-old girl from Omaha, is visited one blustery day by the Green Wind. Being a clever, if somewhat heartless, girl, she of course says yes when the Green Wind asks her if she’d like to come to Fairyland. She’s not entirely sure why she’s in Fairyland, or what her quest might be, or how Fairyland even works, so she must gather her wits, make some hard choices, lose some valuable things, and gain other valuable things–like friends who will journey with her to the end. Along the way, she meets quite a variety of characters: a soap golem, a wicked queen, a bevy of alchemists, flying leopards, a bicycle migration, some witches and a wairwulf, and–best of all, in my opinion–a creature named A-Through-L whose mother was a Wyvern and whose father was a library. A Wyverary.
September is a wonderful heroine, a little bit lost and a little bit fierce. She faces loss and homesickness and fatigue and odds that seem insurmountable, but she never gives up (although she thinks about it, for sure). She’s brave without bravado, smart but not calculating, and kind in the way that kind 12-year-olds are, without ulterior motive. She’s really wonderfully written.
The story is fantastical in a childlike way, with every chapter introducing new fantastical adventures and characters, but there’s a nuanced, wise tone to it that makes it great for all ages. Much of this can be attributed to Valente’s wonderful way with words and incredible imagination. She tells it as the fourth-person narrator, every so often breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader directly–but not very often, and only in the most appropriate of circumstances. Even the absurd-est of the characters fit, somehow, into the coherent, heartfelt, witty story arc.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland has a traditional coming-of-age fairy tale format (schoolchild/ren are transported to Fantastical Place to complete a Quest and Learn Some Lessons: see also The Phantom Tollbooth, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland…) but there are some wonderful twists that make it quite a bit different–and you’ll have to read it yourself to find out what those are. You won’t regret it.
Edited to add: I forgot to mention the illustrations! The illustrations are also really great!