Review: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Title: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
Series: Fairyland #4
Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: March 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 235 pages
Genre: Middle grade fantasy/fairy tale
Why I Read: Love the series
Read If You’re: Liked book #1 or #2 but weren’t so enchanted by book #3
Rating:  ★★★★½ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon
Fairyland Book #3 disappointed me. I can’t recall exactly why (I didn’t review it, I didn’t remember the cliffhanger), though I can probably sum up my disappointment with “didn’t contain that wondrous magic of the first book”, especially concerning the plot (granted, to expect the sequels to match the originality of the first book is to expect the impossible – only once can you be introduced to September and Fairyland). The Boy Who Lost Fairyland refreshed my interest in this series with a delightful tale concerning Changelings.

September serves as an excellent guide through Fairyland. Valente’s decision to instead feature Hawthorn, a Changeling troll, and set a good chunk of the tale in Chicago may at first seem like an unnecessary stirring up of a winning formula – but it works. I found September’s adventures beginning to stale in the third book. With this book, I enjoyed meeting new characters who blossom throughout the story. Hawthorn will likely appeal to anyone who enjoyed September’s company. A break from September also makes me more excited to see her return to prominence in the final book.

 But this child knew very well that he was called Hawthorn and not Thomas, and was a troll on the inside, not a baby human. It was only that he could not tell anyone – his human mouth was so small and soft! He could not make any words come out of it at all. When he finally managed it, they were just the simplest and plainest ones, none of which were big enough to hold his trollness, or that he had once spoken to a giant Panther, or the wonderful, terrible, burning flight through the clouds. (39)

I did not expect so much of the story to be set in our world. This setting allows Valente to explore more realistic challenges that many young children face, most prominently that out-of-place feeling. I liked the Changeling perspective, showing a view of both our world and Fairyland that differs from September’s.

“The Laws of the Kingdom of School,” he squeaked. “One: A Teacher is the same thing as an Empress only a Teacher wears skirts and uses a ruler instead of a sceptre. Two: Be present at eight o’clock sharp or you will be marked Tardy and if you are Tardy enough you will be banished to the Land of Detention, where no food or joy can live. Three: If you write that you shall not do a thing five hundred times you cannot do it again for your whole life. Only Teachers possess this magic, as Mother and Father have never tried it[…]” (73)

While each of the previous books build on its predecessor, this book pulls together a variety of events and hints from the three other books. I recommend a reread if it’s been awhile. I struggled to recall the significance of some of the characters and happenings in the later half of this book.

I don’t think I need to comment much on the prose, save to reassure you that you’re getting the same lyrical goodness of the other Fairyland books!

And indeed, in the rippling red clouds above everything, a great number of treetops began to peek out. They were all very tall and very lush: great umbrellas of glossy leaves, lacy branches twisting and toppling together, cupolas of orange and fuchsia flowers, obelisks of braided beanstalks, huge domes like the ones Hawthorn had seen in his picture book about Pandemonium, but made of climbing roses and hanging babanas and iridescent turquoise bubbles that would not pop, even when they tumbled into thorns. Just the sort of place where the wind stills, grows sleepy, turns around in a few lazy circles, and settles down for a nap in a sunbeam. Everything was hot and wet and alive, like the inside of a summer raindrop. (9)

The Bottom Line: Although I love September, a change in protagonist renewed my excitement in this series. Valente maintains her charming story-telling while giving a fresh perspective of Fairyland.

Further Reading: 

Family Reads: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

 Welcome to Family Reads! Family Reads is a monthly feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. Posts with a link-up go live during the last week of each month, so feel free to grab the banner and join in however you like.

Reno: This post was meant to go up at the end of July, but evidently I didn’t finish it then…Well, here it is now! Let me introduce my final participant – my Dad! Dad chose this month’s book. I’d never read anything by Hosseini, so this was a good opportunity to give him a go.

Dad: I wanted to read this book because I really liked The Kite Runner. I had also seen a lot of positive reviews about And the Mountains Echoed.

I give this book 3 stars and Dad gives it 3.5 stars (he says, “I’m not a big reader, otherwise I might give it 4 stars. I re-read The Kite Runner but that was by accident. I started reading it, thought ‘Hey, this is familiar…’ and then kept reading it because it was good!”). This discussion was a little more challenging for us than the others – Dad doesn’t usually talk about the books he reads, and I don’t usually read this kind of story. But, that’s why I wanted to start doing these Family Reads! We both enjoyed reflecting on this book through conversation. You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (spoilers ahead!). Here’s our condensed discussion on chronology, characters, and how the stories fit together.

They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.

Dad: I liked the book because it’s about human interest, about real life, and I like those types of stories. For years I only read genre books like spy or mystery novels. Then I started reading more books like these – stories about ordinary lives. I found And the Mountains Echoed interesting and challenging because I was trying to understand what’s happening in the story, as it jumps around so much. The story’s kind of choppy; it can be very non-linear. Didn’t you wonder about how the character’s lives connect, how they might be introduced early on, you wonder how they connect, and then find out later on?
Reno: I liked that interlocking component to the stories, but I wasn’t dying to figure everything out or actively put it together. What about you?
Dad: No, I didn’t think too hard, either. I just read and thought, “Oh, that’s cool, I see” as things started to cohere. Like how you’re introduced to the doctor across the street, then you get a back story on him and how he connects to Nabi’s (and therefore Pari’s) story.
Reno: That was the main story for me – Nabi and all the characters who are affected by his story – even if Pari seems to be the main connecting thread.
Dad: I found it a bit confusing to keep track of Pari’s family.
Reno: Yeah, the story of Adel and his Admiral dad really confused me. I’m not sure how it fit in. At first I thought the old man and his son fighting to get back their land were Saboor and Abdullah. It was someone related to them, but I can’t remember who or how. That story didn’t seem too integral – you could have skipped it and not missed anything.
Dad: Mostly, though, I liked how the storytelling worked. You couldn’t predict where it was going.
Reno: Yeah! Because you have so many characters working in different ways. But on the flip side, I found some of the stories didn’t really fit for me. Such as the Greek doctor and his childhood friend. It was kind of a long story… I guess it shows why Markos is in Afghanistan. I can feel my brain hurting trying to figure it out! Some people don’t like all the little stories. They think the book is too disconnected. What did you think?
Dad: No, I thought it forced me to pay attention to what I was reading. I made notes, arrows of names and connections. …
Reno: I should have done that, haha. It was okay while I was reading but now I’m forgetting names and who was who. Especially with the two Paris at the end!
*We talked about Idris and Tamir’s story*
Dad: So, how did that tie in?
Reno: I guess that’s the big question about this book! How do all these stories tie in? They grew up across the street from Nabi, but it seems they have nothing to do with his story. It’s a good story on its own, but what’s the point of including their story in the novel? I guess you have to decide for yourself if you want to make the connections (hm, in this way maybe it is a bit like Annihilation!). I guess you can discount some stories more than others. Consider how you like the book and making connections but some stories you don’t even remember.
Dad: I would reread it to understand the connections better. It’s not that I want to reread it because it was amazing.
Reno: Hear hear.

 Have you anything by Hosseini? What would you add to our conversation?

Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge

Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic.  Horror. Supernatural. Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.

Last year I participated in the RIP IX Read-along, though I wasn’t prepared to jump into the challenge itself. This year I’m not missing out! The RIP X Challenge runs September and October. Over the years, I’ve become more interested in what I label ‘eerie’ stories, those ghostly, atmospheric tales that blossom when read on a cool fall night. So, I’m happy to participate in a challenge that celebrates and embraces those stories. I want to complete Peril the First – “Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature”. My choices are:

  • The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson – The Read-along book last year was The Haunting of Hill House, which was my second Jackson read. I’ve loved both of her books that I’ve read, so this one is a natural choice.
  • Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow by Katy Towell – I’ve owned this book for a couple years and while I love Towell’s Skary Childrin animations, I hadn’t yet got around to reading her debut novel.
  • Library of Souls preview by Ransom Riggs – I won this back during the April Read-a-thon. The final book in Riggs’ Peculiar Children trilogy!
  • The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe – I’ve had a book on my TBR for awhile called The Fall, based on Poe’s story. I’ve never read Poe…I plan to change that.

Are you participating in the RIP Challenge? Do you have any recommended reads?