I've heard a lot of good things about this book, and it deserves all of them.
It's a fairytale about a girl named September, who is whisked off to Fairyland as so many children are, only to find that Fairyland has become a place of tyranny and bureaucracy under the rule of the dastardly Marquess. It's not as bad as Narnia under the White Witch, but it's going that way.
This being a fairytale, September must go on a long journey which takes her across, around and under Fairyland in the company of various extraordinary beings (including a Wyvern whose father may have been a library, a boy who can grant wishes and a small glittery key) in order to save it and find herself along the way.
Now, the really lovely thing about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is its timelessness. It could be read, with equal amounts of enjoyment, if different in kind, by a twelve-year-old or a ninety-year-old. It is a fairy story, but that does not mean that it is only for children. There are wry asides, little puns, narratorial addresses that could be aimed at adults or children. (I suspect that if I had been reading this at twelve I would have felt rather smug, since Valente often addresses her audience as if they are older, at least, than September.) It's everything I wanted Stardust to be, in fact.
Oh, and the prose is so, so beautiful in the way that fairytales can be. I just want to quote the whole thing - but I'll content myself with this gem:
Autumn in Fairyland is all that, of course. You would never feel cheated by the colors of a Fairyland forest or the morbidity of the Fairyland moon. And the Halloween masks! Oh, how they glitter, how they curl, how their beaks and jaws hook and barb! But to wander through autumn in Fairyland is to look into a murky pool, seeing only a hazy reflection of the Autumn Provinces' eternal fall. And human autumn is but a cast-off photograph of that reflecting pool, half burnt and drifting through the space between us and Fairyland.
Like all good fairytales, it's a story of choice, a story of self-discovery, a sort of coming-of-age story full of clever little details from other tales (I particularly liked the pomegranate popcorn) that yet feels wholly original and wholly imaginative. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making may well be my favourite book of the year so far.