We're not in Omaha anymore
You're likely quite familiar with at least one story about a girl who gets swept up by the wind from her Midwestern home into another world that desperately needs her help, but I hope you'll make room for another. September, the 12-year-old girl who circumnavigates Fairyland in Catherynne M. Valente's beautiful story The Girl Who Circumnavigates Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, definitely holds some similarities to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but once the Green Wind transports her out of Omaha into Fairyland, her journey is all her own - without any ruby slippers to help her find her way home. Likewise, the Fairyland that she enters is not some cheap imitation of Oz or Wonderland; it's an entire world of its own, complete with quilted cities, wyverns in chains, and a manipulative Marquess with a dark agenda.
Once September finds herself in Fairyland, she doesn't immediately stumble upon a group of friendly misfits; she encounters a group of witches that could use a favor, which sets her on a path that leads her through some of the best and worst sights Fairyland has to offer, right up to a confrontation with the Marquess and an opportunity to free Fairyland from her cruel ruling. Fairies can be a tricky group to deal with, and September certainly doesn't have an easy time in their world, but the book's whimsy is only enhanced by the bits of darkness that shadow the tale. It's the unflinching way that Valente presents the duality of Fairyland and the strong, forthright way that September responds to it that truly make this a modern fairy tale, and one that will undoubtedly be read for years to come.
Creating an original fairy tale that can hold its own in comparison to both older and newer classics like The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Golden Compass is quite a feat, and Valente has accomplished it with flying colors in this book, her first for younger audiences. Valente has already earned a reputation as a highly accomplished storyteller in her adult fantasy novels, and in this crossover into children's literature, she has proven that her gift for creating fascinating worlds and feisty heroines is universal.