Simon Snow is a magician and the Chosen One. Baz is his roommate, and quite possibly a vampire. Who really knows? Simon’s pretty sure he does. How is Simon supposed to defeat the Insidious Humdrum when he can’t even seem to keep track of his evil roommate who he’s pretty sure wants him dead. What is the Chosen One to do???
Today I am going to be reviewing a book that completely took me by surprise: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I honestly had never planned to read this novel until the new paperback cover came out and I was like, damn, there’s no way I’m not going to own that.
I really am the person all advertisers love; bright and colorful things just get to me. They suck me in!
For the sake of a truthful, completely honest review, I must tell you that I was not the biggest fan of this novel’s sister book, Fangirl. I actually never finished it, which is super bizarre, seeing as how so many people love it. I am a huge fan of Rowell’s first book, Eleanor & Park, which I have read several times, but I just couldn’t really mesh with the characters in Fangirl. Hey, it happens; some books you just don’t jive with.
Which is why I was SO surprised that I enjoyed Carry On as much as I did. After all – though it is its own novel – Carry On is the work of fanfiction that Cath (the main character from Fangirl) is credited for writing.
Carry On is a book within a book within a book. It is the fanfiction written within the novel Fangirl, portraying a completely made-up universe that greatly resembles Harry Potter, while also being a full novel in and of itself (which is actually not fanfiction).
As if any of that by itself wouldn’t be confusing enough.
But it is exactly this – a fake work of fanfiction loosely based on the world of Harry Potter in some alternate universe where, instead of Harry Potter, our main character is Simon Snow – that gives the book its charm. (No magical puns intended.)
I had so much fun reading this book as a Harry Potter fan, because seeing the parallels between the two stories, and how Rowell twists and changes them to create her own, unique piece of writing is so cool. And for those of you Harry Potter fans who may be skeptical, she does not translate these characters from a world identical to Harry Potter. Like I said before, it is a world that loosely resembles HP but does not mirror it.
For example, the main characters do attend a school for magic, and the main character (who is “the chosen one” – in quotes because that’s one of the major questions of the book) does have a male mentor who is the headmaster of the school. Simon Snow does have two best friends, though in this story they are both girls. And then there is his roommate Baz, who we don’t really know what to make of at the start of the novel, but we think he might be evil. Oh, and don’t forget about the Insidious Humdrum, the ultimate villain of our story. Though maybe not so much in name?
One of the other fun pieces of this novel are the spell names. Unlike J.K. Rowling who essentially made up a new language for her spells, Rowell uses well-known idioms and colloquialisms as spells; even going so far as to provide a history behind the words, and why/how they are so powerful. At the start, I was a bit concerned that this method would come across as corny, but it ended up being very entertaining once explanations were provided as to the “importance of words” in spellcasting.
And speaking of explanations, throughout this book we hardly get any. In much the same way a fanfiction assumes that the reader has read/seen/heard of the original piece of work, this book jumps straight into the world – to Simon Snow’s last year at school – and brings you with it, as if you had been there the entire time, being witness to his story. References are made to past battles and incidents, and characters are named and revealed in a way that makes you feel like you should probably have intimate knowledge of them, even though this is the first time you’ve ever met.
In this way, I think people could feel one of two ways about this aspect of the book: either they really love it, or they really don’t. I happened to think it is pretty amusing. There were times when I felt like I wanted to know more about certain incidents that are briefly touched on, but for the most part this was out of a selfish desire to know more and not because I was confused or felt the story was lacking in detail.
My one con with the book as a whole (and the reason it got 4.75 stars instead of 5) was the ending. I felt like, for the length of the book (500 pages or thereabouts) it deserved a more finished ending. What’s a few more pages to a 500 page book anyway? This is my general, spoiler-less explanation. If you want to know why I think the way I do about this ending (and you don’t mind some major spoilers) then go ahead and keep reading. If you haven’t read this book yet and plan to, you might want to skip past the portion of colored text straight to the bottom, where the text turns back to normal.
Just warning you in advance!
Here we go:
In a nutshell, the major conflict between Simon and Baz (our main characters) is the fact that Simon thinks Baz is an evil vampire and Baz thinks Simon is wildly attractive and has been in love with him since their first year as roomies. I have no problems with these two points. (Again, super happy to see LGBTQ+ representation in YA literature. Diversity is something we desperately need more of.)
My troubles stem from the following:
1) Baz has been in love with Simon their entire school career, and yet somehow Simon had no idea whatsoever. Not even, like, a smidge of a “well, that was weird” feeling, outside of the fact that he thinks Baz is strange – *ahem* an evil vampire.
2) When Simon and Baz’s relationship meets its climax (no gross jokes!) – a point in the book where Simon kisses Baz in an effort to distract him from hurting himself – there is no realization for Simon about his sexuality. In fact, throughout the entire book up until this point, Simon has been thinking about his ex-girlfriend and pondering their relationship; not in a “well, maybe we weren’t right for each other because I don’t like girls that much” way, but in a, “I wonder why were weren’t happy” way. I was really surprised that it was Simon who initiated the kiss, because there was so little previous characterization to support this choice. It seemed very random.
3) Similar to the point I made above, Simon and Baz’s fixation on the fact that Simon kissing Baz suddenly makes him “gay” (with no consideration of other potential sexual identities) was problematic for me. I am in no position to make any sort of claim that I know for a fact what this character’s sexuality is. Maybe Simon is gay, maybe he’s not, maybe he feels something else entirely; all of those things are fine! But so much of the story is spent on Simon pondering his relationship with this ex-girlfriend, that I was honestly confused when he never one considered bisexuality, pansexuality, etc. In this way, it sort of felt like everything that had been a focus prior to this scene – his previous relationship and the importance it had on his life – was completely nullified.
I say this largely because there is a tendency in our society to make generalizations where they don’t exist. For example, just because a boy kisses another boy, this does not make him gay. In fact, he could still very well consider himself straight. Maybe he won’t ever kiss a boy again, and maybe he will. It doesn’t matter. Sexuality is fluid, and I know that can be a difficult concept to fully grasp, but it’s something that people need to make a bigger effort to do. In this way, it felt like Rowell fell into this socially stigmatized trap of “I kissed a boy, so now I must be gay,” rather than having Simon come to recognize his sexual identity – whatever it may be – in an authentic way.
Also, I just want to clarify: I totally ship Simon and Baz! There were just some parts of their relationship that seemed unauthentic/strange. Because of this, some of the choices the characters made after they begin their semi-relationship, I found to be considerably confusing.
And 4) Abrupt. Endings. Are. Going. To. Kill. Me. I think these are one of the sole reasons my hair is graying at such a young age. Why? Why do you do this to me?!
I wanted more from this ending: more explanation, more character development, just, in general, more. Primarily, how is the world of mages going to be affected by the outcome of the ending’s events? Why did Baz kick Simon off his property when the pocket of magic-less-ness was created, and how did he suddenly figure out what was going on (particularly in terms of Simon and his power) when no one else could? He is clearly smart, so I’m totally cool with the fact that his character could figure it out, but how did he do it? Hoooooooow?
So, yeah, those are my thoughts on the book. Overall, I thought it was Totally Worth the Read, and I would recommend this to anyone looking for a light summertime read, or just an overall fun, quick read. I had a lot of fun drawing comparisons between this book and Harry Potter, as well as exploring the completely unique universe that is Carry On.
Final Count: 4.75 stars.
And just for shits and giggles, here is the song that has been stuck in my head for the past few days as I read the book and wrote this review. I swear, she had to know this was going to happen. Rainbow Rowell totally planned this!
It really is a great song, just not on a 24 hour repeat in my head… *cries internally*.