The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Ana Juan, Catherynne M. Valente growing up, i loved the Oz books (the Baum ones, at least). i read all of them multiple times - i think there are 14 or so - and have enjoyed rereading them here and there as an adult. i love how the fancifulness and frequent absurdity of Baum's creations are anchored down by prosaic reality. i love their no-nonsense child heroines (and occasional heroes) - precocious but never precious, cute but never cutesy-poo. i love the transparency of Baum's prose, the layering of meaning and metaphor, the use of genuine tragedy, the light touch, the wisdom of it all. so it is a happy thing and one of the highest compliments that i can imagine giving when i say that reading Girl Who Circumnavigated brought me right back to that enchanting feeling of reading a classic Oz book.

Valente is a marvel with language. i knew she could write like a mad poet after reading the amazing In the Night Garden; less expected was her ability to smooth down and simplify her lush style so that it is perfectly tailored for a children's novel. it loses no lustre in the transition. reading Valente's prose reminds me of looking through my window at a light rain falling on an otherwise bright day, the sun and water making a painting of the world, images seen through the droplets of rain rolling down glass. lovely!

the character of The Girl Who Circumnavigates is instantly familiar from any number of Oz books - her sensible and at times irritable nature, the depth of her feelings, her forthright way of navigating the places through which she wanders. she is a classic type, but never a tiresome one. her attachment to her new friends is adorable, but never corny or mawkish. i love the brave moments when she considers returning home but almost instantaneously rejects that cowardly path. and when she finally builds that Ship of Her Own Making... my gosh, that was wonderful! much internal cheering ensued.

Valente makes the adventure a pleasure from beginning to end. her use of irony is constant - and sweetly good-humored, never heavy-handed, suitable for kids but thoroughly adult as well. equally sophisticated is her use of symbol and metaphor, her smooth incorporation of various mythologies and mythological creatures, and especially her entirely original conception of the novel's arch-villain - so appalling, so tragic, so understandable. poor child!

and any children's fantasy that features the parallel saga of a brave & loyal Key, a strikingly sinister Shadow of a Little Girl about to run off on its own strange journey, a helpful & industrious Smoking Jacket, two Witches married to an elegant little male Witch/ Wair-Wolf, and most of all a genuinely touching & loveable Wyvern... well, i am that novel's true friend.