Catherynne M. Valente
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Harrisburg, VA 2011
I relished this book. I just finished it and I already want to read it again. The language is delicious. The story is charming and the protagonist heartless, as: “All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror.”
The child is carried away into Fairyland, at her own consent, by the Leopard of Little Breezes and the Green Wind. There she finds herself in the middle of a story. As is typical of Fairy stories September, our heroine, is given the rules and structure at the beginning. She’s a bright girl and works very hard to keep in line. She avoids eating Fairy food for instance by convincing herself she’s eating Witch food and Wyvern food and all sorts of things that couldn’t possibly be Fairy food.
As she enters into the land she’s given a visa, something all travelers to strange countries must have of course. September’s visa reads: “Temporary Visa Type: Pomegranate. Housing Allotment: None. Alien Registry Category: Human, Ravished, non-changeling. Size: Medium. Age: Twelve. Privileges: None, or As Many As You Can Catch.” Which of course gives us the whole story, without giving away a thing.
There is an evil queen and odd beasts. There are wonders to behold and an arduous journey. There are things destined to entrap her and friends to be made. There are choices along the way of course and there is the key. The Green Wind tells September he came for her, only her. She feels chosen, yet she doesn’t feel as though she is anything special. Truth is she’s not chosen. She makes her choices and those choices have consequences and in the end take her through the story and out the other side.
I have seen some of Catherynne Valente’s other work, but this is the first that I’ve actually read. I have a fellow blogger to thank for recommending it. (If I could remember who (sorry, it took me awhile to get here) I’d throw in a link to their site. If you read the comments maybe she’ll show up.) Looking through listings of Valente’s work I can see she has a background and interest in fairy and folklore. I’m intrigued enough by her writing style to look both further in this series and also at her more adult works.
I suspect this book would be a delight to hear read aloud. It is a fairy story, but there are plenty of hints at things older children and adults might enjoy as well. The allusion to mythic adventure is palpable, without this being simply a retelling of an old story. Every little detail becomes relevant at some point in the tale, even the fact that September neglected to wave goodbye to her mother as the Leopard of Little Breezes carried her past the factory where her mother built airplanes.
There is something about being a twelve-year-old girl. The composure and self-confidence in your ability to accomplish anything, standing on the brink of something you can’t comprehend but feel drawn toward, and desiring to escape yet needing the security of home that make them ideal for this kind of story. Dorothy in the Frank Baum books was about this age. Susan is twelve when she first steps into the wardrobe to Narnia. September holds her own in her adventures along with the best of them.