{book} the girl(s) who…

on

“What if the Green Wind came and found an old lady complaining of gout? Well, of course September would go with him anyway—she would not hesitate if she were eighteen or eighty! But old women faced certain dangers in Fairyland, such as breaking a hip while riding a wild velocipede, or having everyone do what you say just because you had wrinkles. That last would not be so bad—perhaps September could be a fabulous withered old witch and learn to cackle.” (5)

septemberThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

by Cathrynne M. Valente w/ illustrations by Ana Juan

Feiwel and Friends, 2012; harcover, 258 pages.

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.
Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem. . . . (jacket copy).

If you have not read The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making you really must. And not only because the sequel would be all the richer for it. Actually, I am not really all that sure how the sequel would even read without having experienced the first book—It is important to know the September who made her own ship and understand the relationships and the references. September was a child in the first, and is growing-up in The Girl who Fell Beneath and while Valente explains the key differences—primarily their hearts—she can only spend so much time; already September risks losing some of her own while bargaining in a goblin market. It is good to know how September’s first trip informs the second, as well as that between time, the year she waited.

september6

“September’s secret was this: She had been to Fairyland.

This has happened to other children in the history of the world. There are many books about it, and for ever so long little boys and girls have been reading them and making wooden swords and paper centaurs and waiting for their turn. […]

The only trouble was, precious few books about swashbuckling folk have much to say on the subject of how to behave when one gets home. September had changed profoundly from the girl who desperately wanted such things to be real to one who knew they were real. Such a change is less like getting a new haircut than getting a new head.” (2) *

Comparisons to Oz were strongly suggested in reviews of the first, and Oz returns with Wonderland and Neverland coming to mind in the second. But then, the novel’s interest is in situating itself into the childlike wonder of places of imagination and magic by steeping her own narratives among the layers of all the stories that have come before. [Chapter XI’s discussion on the various Quest structures is not to be missed, Lit nerds.] In Valente’s, she tells of a hero who is much more interested in other titles and job descriptions. [another fun conversation in the novel.] Valente’s is a protagonist that is no Alice or Wendy Darling; however she is a bit like Peter Pan, one part of her anyway—the one who leads glorious revels.

I didn’t think much about the title of the book until after, nor the illustrated presence of the three on the cover. Yet, when delving into the deep of a place—or person—stories are going to yield some unforeseen and delicious complexity, aren’t they? Of course, early on, we learn that not everyone cares for the complicated. From “the door shaped like a girl:”

“Most people don’t like complexity. They would prefer the world to simple. For example, a child is whisked away to a magical land and saves it, and all is well forever after. Or a child goes to school and grows up and gets married and has children, and those children have children, and everyone enjoys the same cake for Christmas every year and all is well forever after.” (40-1)

September, while wishing everyone would just speak plainly and that doors should politely lead where they ought, is practical in other ways, too; namely, she knows things are hardly simple. September knows that sometimes she has to approach things “slantwise or upside-down,” especially when the world is in a similar state. Neither does she long for the sort of simplicity described—although she does wrestle with the guilt over leaving Fairyland in tatters. And I guess, she does wrestle with the uncertainty of what her future is to look like, especially as she meets character after character who knows what they want to be when they grow up. {I so feel her pain!}  And she does long for a straightforward story-book type adventure. I suppose I am thinking of what September’s shadow (her other half) riles against: “Why bother growing up and having a job or a baby or a house or any of the things you’re supposed to have?” (127), especially if you can having something that seems so much more exciting, so much closer to other desires that don’t seem to conform to propriety… I am remembering that September’s mother is a mechanic during a World War—a Rosie the Riveter figure.**

september5

Drawing the image of an earlier at-war America with female machinists with tea cups in the sink at home and news broadcasting over the radio and ration cards, Valente and her girl-shaped-door unabashedly plays in the psychological. Are these adventures really real or a nap alongside a riverbank? In essence, The Wizard of Oz is a story bent on escaping reality for a little while, fortifying the will of a girl who needs to be brave, intelligent, loving and resourceful…much like the first Fairyland book and two very key female characters therein. The Girl who Fell riles with Peter Pan*** against growing up, for settling for the expectations of the world from which they came. The novel also plays with the idea that maybe growing a heart and growing up has some advantages. And like the first book, we see a girl who is going to find her way and her end on her own terms (all three of them). September lacks a passivity that is breathtaking. This is not to mistake her as being invulnerable.

“I can so hoard everything! Everything! I can have it all here, with me, and no one will ever leave me for some stupid war or hurt me. […] I am everything you aren’t brave enough to be. I am what you cannot even admit that you want to be—Queen of Fairyland, which is how all the best heroines end up.” (126-7)

Is that how all the best heroines end up? The Fairyland books are bent on introducing such inquiries. September, herself, is not sure—only understanding that an answer to the problem plaguing Fairyland is in the waking of a Prince. And September knows with certainty that she is a girl who will do what needs doing and see it through to even the most painful end; as proven in the first novel.

september3 (1)

I like moving internalized conflicts into the external in the various forms authors have found amusing, but the move in The Girl Who Fell Beneath, is that is not the only function of a shadow figure. The shadows are not only viewed as living in a state of repression, but as figures oppressed, too. They enter in conversations not only about forgiveness and compassion and sameness. And in a discussion of dark sides:

“though you might be prejudiced against the dark, you ought to remember that that’s where stars live, and the moon and raccoons and owls and fireflies and mushrooms and cats and enchantments and a rather lot of good, necessary things. Thieving, too, and conspiracies, sneaking, secrets, and desire so strong you might faint dead away with the punch of it. But your light side isn’t a perfectly pretty picture, either, I promise you. You couldn’t dream without the dark. You couldn’t rest. You couldn’t even meet a lover on a balcony by moonlight. And what would the world be worth without that? You need your dark side, because without it, you’re half gone.” (202)

The Girl Who Fell Beneath is wildly entertaining. And I have yet to mention odd tea/coffee parties.

—-

One of the most entertaining aspects of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, was the language and I worried as to whether the voice would carry through into a sequel. It does. Neither does Valente disappoint in continuing in humor and imagination. She translates the fantastical into delectable images; Ana Juan’s illustrations are just pure delightful frosting. Valente draws from bizarre encounters without harming the idea of having encounters with the extraordinary for their own sake. The only false rub were the crows, even as I understand their use, even as I adore the mythic reference made. Valente explores characters and ideas with a great deal of charm and wit and willingness to allow for the ugly among the quaint. I am looking forward to September’s next adventure in Fairyland.

————————–

recommendations: girls and boys, 10 & up (or some younger). love Victorian tales w/ a modern skew, and lovers of tale/lore/myth in general; fans of the whimsical and the fierce; like the first, this would be great for a read-aloud, such is the narrator.

of note: this is the sort of playful read I would adore in a book club w/ fellow Lit-ravaged-classmates.

* thinking about this last paragraph of the excerpt in considering the post-war figures.

**thinking about this and the difficulty for post-war women sent back to the hearth.

***love the close of The Girl who Fell.

my review of The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making 

{images belong to Ana Juan}

8 Comments Add yours

  1. ibeeeg says:

    With Elliana, I am gradually making my way through The Girl Who Circumnavigated. We are loving the story; entertaining. We love the language too and often stop to discuss a word or look one up. Glad to see that the language aspect carries over into the next book.

    I admit, I did not thoroughly read your review; don’t want any chance of spoiling the first book as were not done. But I did go to the end to see that you liked this next book; this is very encouraging and makes me want Elliana and I to get done with Circumnavigated even sooner so we can continue on.

    1. L says:

      glad the two of you are enjoying it! would love to hear yours and Elliana’s thoughts on the read when you are done.

  2. Ah, Fairyland! I am so madly in love with these books. I agree that the voice and the language are so integral. There’s so much that’s wonderful, but I don’t think it would be as wonderful if Valente didn’t tell it the way she does…if that makes any sense! I love all your comparisons to classic fantasy, particularly the depth of the comparisons you explore. I love the comparison of the first to Oz and the second to Peter Pan. True!

    I can’t wait for the third one!

    1. L says:

      you do make sense. many attempt the kind of narrator Valente uses and to varying success–varying enough to make you really appreciate Valente’s gift here.

  3. Redhead says:

    I love these books so much! and she’s scheduled to write 5 in the series.

    I got to hear her speak a few months ago, and someone asked her about the differences between writing for adults and then writing a YA novel. She said other than the obvious “no swear words” rule for writing YA, she was most surprised that her editors requested that she use shorter sentences. They didn’t mind the complex metaphors or fifty cent words, it was “make your sentences shorter”. I’m not sure if she followed their recommendations though!

    1. L says:

      5…curious where she is going to go with this. am really looking forward to the next. I had hoped to get to book 2 sooner, a mistake I hope not to make with the Fall release of the book 3.

      that is interesting! and you have me thinking now: how short are those sentences? She breaks some with periods, but the flow is enough to disregard said punctuation for the most part. I did notice that she allows her characters lengthy blocks of dialog. —-a soapbox: short sentences and fragmenting serve a greater purpose than catering to the increasing brevity of attention spans, don’t they? I am happy to see that authors will still sneak the long sentences and dialog blocks into young people lit.

  4. lynnsbooks says:

    I’ve not read No.2 yet but am really looking forward to it.
    Lynn 😀

  5. Priya says:

    I’d read and loved The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, so I am surprised I never knew there was a sequel! I’m going to try and fit this into my Once Upon a Time reads too, if I find it! I am glad to know the language and the humour is still there. Thanks for the review 🙂

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