This is the story of a young girl named September, who when tired of her dull life in Omaha, is taken away on an adventure to Fairyland by the Green Wind. There she meets a host of characters, from her beloved Wyverary (a Wyvern whose father was a Library), to a plucky lamp, to a trio of witches, and the wicked Marquess who rules the land. The purpose of her quest shifts as she goes along, but the real purpose is to have a great adventure in Fairyland, and to bring back happiness to the place.
It took a little while, but I grew to really enjoy and appreciate this story. I was torn about whether this is a book I could hand to my 9-year-old sister. On one hand, it’s very fun and imaginative, but on the other hand, there are a lot of really big words. I think an enterprising child could still read it and get the gist, but you may want to provide a dictionary to go along with the book.
The writing was a bit self-aware at times, as if Valente were entirely cognizant of how clever her audience must perceive this story to be, and acknowledges that fact. There are also some episodes and statements that are pretty clearly meant for an adult reader (maybe one who is reading this to a child as a bedtime story!) For example, we encounter death, who complains that people always seem to want to play chess with her, a reference to the Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal. This helps in its appeal to an adult audience as well as children.
Even though I listened to the audiobook, I am waiting to get a copy from the library just so that I can see the illustrations. I also had mixed feelings about the audiobook. Valente narrates it herself, and she doesn’t make a huge effort to do voices, or even to put much liveliness into the narration. Instead, it felt a bit like when my parents would read me a bedtime story. It’s pleasant in its own way, but I would love to re-listen to the book with somebody like Jim Dale narrating, and adding his own magical talent to the production.
Overall, this is a really compelling tale that operates along the same lines as books like Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Dorothy and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There is a quiet complexity to the storytelling, and the end with leave you smiling with nostalgia.