The Boy Who Lost Fairyland

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Boy Who Lost Fairyland Book Poster Image
Changelings return to Fairyland in twist to dazzling series.

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age 10+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As in previous volumes, just about everyone's vocabulary will be improved by author Valente's wildly lush yet carefully crafted prose. Both readers and characters deal with a barrage of cultural and historic references, such as "At that moment, the Battle of Hastings came into his mind (he liked it best because it had a bull in one corner of the illustration looking on with a bewildered expression on its brown face. Thomas deeply preferred the bull to William the Conqueror)." Not all facts are reliable: "Did you know Hammurabi was part wombat?" Thomas gets his classmates reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Faerie Queene instead of Peter Rabbit. Plentiful references to songs and recording artists of the '40s, from a destroyed Big Bill Broonzy record to a gramophone who converses in song lyrics. The Great Chicago Fire is cited as a changeling-caused fairy prank on humans.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage, determination, perseverance, friendship, love, finding where you belong.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tom/Hawthorn struggles to do the right thing, which is especially difficult because the human world makes no sense to him. In one memorable scene, he turns the tables on a bully without anyone getting hurt. His first friend, Tamburlaine, also a changeling, makes a life-altering difference when they realize what they have in common, and the two form a strong bond and help each other. September, seen only briefly and imprisoned in Fairyland, is trying to put the universe back to rights. Her parents, aunt, and dog, also seen only briefly, are frantic with worry and trying to be strong.

Violence

Thomas' parents, who don't know he's a changeling, grind him down with the insistence that he be "normal." The fairies abuse changeling children, imprisoning them, putting them into forced labor, and making them change shapes for the fairies' entertainment. Cosmic upheaval looms, and a character is pursued by an unseen assassin. A character stabs a giant who's holding her captive; no long-lasting ill effects.

Sex

The sheer silliness of obsessing over sex and gender is something of a recurring theme in the series, as here: "Grown-Ups talked about not leaving boys and girls Alone Together in quiet, concerned voices. As if something terrible might happen if a boy and a girl were brought too near each other without shields and swords. As if they were baking soda and vinegar and only the presence of other people kept them from becoming a volcano." As in previous installments, the exuberant world-creation includes a bit of gender-bending, as with the character Mr. Benjamin Franklin, who's a woman. In a hilariously awkward scene, a changeling character asks his parents what "married" means.

Language
Consumerism

"I'm fragile," says a changeling character. "Like a motorcar that breaks down after ten years, not because it couldn't be built to go for fifty, but because Mr. Ford likes people to buy new cars." A Burma-Shave ad is a password.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As in previous volumes, some references to parents' liquor supply; rum, a kid says to his horrified parents, is "the brown stuff in the cabinet that tastes like cake on fire. I gave some to the phonograph and she drank it all up, so I know it's good." Whiskey bottles are among the random projectiles that fly about in the course of many descriptions.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, the fourth book in Catherynne M. Valente's five-volume Fairyland series, throws readers a curve by devoting most of its pages to characters we've never seen before, including the one referred to in the title. Once again, the language is exuberantly lush, the characters intriguing and relatable, and the plot a never-ending series of unexpected developments. It's a natural for kids who love gorgeous words, sly historic and cultural references, and cosmic peril. Some violence is cartoonish (such as a character stabbing a monster), while there's some emotional abuse (for example, a changeling character's parents can't stand the fact that he's not "normal"). Sex is not really on the radar of the 12-year-old (in human years) protagonists, although a few passing narrative remarks dance humorously around the issue. There's a bit of playful gender-bending, as some female characters have male names and vice versa.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byocelotgvc August 14, 2016
Teen, 17 years old Written byPortia0623 September 28, 2017

What's the story?

As the story opens, Hawthorn, a troll infant dazzled by the blandishments of the Red Wind, is swept away from Fairyland and swapped for Thomas, the baby of a Chicago couple. This doesn't turn out so well, as his human parents can't deal with his wild enthusiasms and just want him to be "normal." But on his first day of school, he makes a friend, Tamburlaine, and over time they realize they're both changelings and have unexpected powers. Tamburlaine paints vivid pictures of a place she can barely remember, and one day the kids, accompanied by a suddenly alive stuffed patchwork wombat, a walking gramophone who can only converse in song lyrics, and the baseball the Red Wind had left with infant Thomas, walk through the wall into Fairyland. This is where, after many adventures and the occasional reappearance of characters from the earlier books, their story connects with that of September -- who, at the end of Book 3, was stuck in a very perilous situation.

Is it any good?

Kids who like their language simple and their universes orderly have probably long since bailed on the Fairyland series. In particular, they may have tired of author Catherynne M. Valente's fondness for wild images and pure delight in yanking the rug out from characters and readers alike at frequent intervals. But, although she's not going to be everyone's dish, Valente's narrator is that rare jewel: She has all this under control and dispenses assorted reassuring asides but also doesn't take herself too seriously. Which is a big part of what makes you willing to cut Valente some slack when she launches the fourth book in a five-part series by introducing a protagonist you've never heard of, and she makes you care deeply about the plight and future of THE BOY WHO LOST FAIRYLAND. She dazzles you with language, cracks you up, and breaks your heart, often in the same paragraph, such as this one:

"Thomas Rood had a naked heart, even when the rest of him was bundled up in hats and mittens in the depths of winter. And it was this naked heart that hurled itself at everything, at lamps and toys and flagstones and draperies. Thomas could not help it. All his life he had known that something was wrong. It was only that he did not know what it was. He felt all the time as though there were another boy inside him, a bigger boy, a stronger boy, a boy who knew impossible things, a boy so wonderful he could talk to jewels and make friends with fire. But whenever he tried to let that boy out, he was only Thomas, red-faced, sputtering, gangly, clench-fist Thomas."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories about changelings, and why stories about them are so popular. They've been around for centuries, but what's their appeal in the 21st century?

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  • Do you ever feel like you're in the wrong place and the wrong time? Where would you rather be?

  • Have you ever done something that seemed like the right thing to do at the time -- but turned out to have unexpected bad consequences? What did you do to make things better?

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