The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
I immensely enjoyed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, so I was glad to pick up the sequel so quickly. This one picks up with September back in Nebraska, trying and failing to be normal after her extraordinary experiences in Fairyland. She’s overjoyed when she gets to return, but she finds things are not the same. One important loose end left over from the first book was the fact that September had bartered her shadow away while in Fairyland and returned without it. It turns out that her shadow has been busy making the most of her new freedom. Most of this book takes place in Fairyland-Below, where the shadow selves of many Fairyland inhabitants hold nightly revels. It’s interesting to discover through the narrative how these shadow selves are different but similar to their ‘real’ selves. Just as in psychology, they’re what we repress, or don’t let ourselves do, what we deny. The main conflict seems to be that September knows she must rejoin with her shadow, but the shadow doesn’t want to give up her freedom.
This book, while still a children’s novel, seems a bit more grown-up than the last one. September is now 13, and there are hints of her budding sexuality, including her first kiss and ball gown. She has lots of questions about what she might be when she grows up and looks around at all of the people she meets to find out how they figured out what to do with their lives.
There are many more of the same technicolor descriptions, metafictional moments, and wry narrator that made the first book so delightful. September is as plucky and determined as ever, a truly admirable heroine. She’s a role model for child readers not because she’s perfect, but because she learns from her mistakes, because she uses her brain and heart to overcome problems, because she takes responsibility for her actions, and because she experiences profound doubt and guilt and goes on anyway. I found out that Catherynne Valente has written some fairy tales for adults, so I’m glad to add those books to my reading list!