Sometimes when I finish reading a book, I am hesitant to begin another one immediately because I feel like I am cheating on the former. It’s silly, but I am a very monogamous book reader.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was one of those books.
I didn’t want it to end and immediately wanted to discuss it, with ANYone, but I was banished to a cone of silence because no one else I know has read it. Instead, I trolled Goodreads reviews and re-read my favorite parts over the next day or so. I rarely re-read parts of books — but I was curious to re-examine my own emotional attachments to the characters and Rowell’s development of her magical world.
I also wanted to determine why I wanted to re-read it forever. I’m still not 100% sure.
I don’t read a lot of YA — this is beneficial in that it helps me avoid the inherent hype of a new novel, but I rarely have anyone to discuss YA with, which is another reason I avoid it. I read Fangirl by Rowell last year and, much to my surprise, I greatly enjoyed it. I’d read Rowell’s other books and had experienced very little prolonged interest in the characters, but I latched onto Cath in Fangirl because she so closely exemplified myself at that age.
So, Carry On was a book based in part on Cath’s fanfiction which was based on a fictional Harry Potter-like story she was obsessed with in Fangirl. To clarify, this is a book, based on a fanfiction of a fictional book, inside of another fictional novel written by Rowell in our plane of existence (super meta).
The thing is, when I was reading Fangirl, I, like many readers, didn’t really care about Simon and Baz. Cath’s obsession with building on a quirky, magical world, to me, only served as a plot device to further her relationship with Levi and develop her character. Carry On has little to no connection to Cath’s story, and instead reads as the original story she was perhaps basing her own fanfiction on.
The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I followed suit. Simon, the “Chosen One,” goes to a magical school and has a vampire roommate, Baz, who’s naturally perceived as “evil” and Simon’s obvious nemesis — they also have complicated feelings toward one another. Penelope is Simon’s quirky, smart, and driven bff, Agatha is his friend / sort-of girlfriend. The book boils down to the fantasy side-story of the politics and goings-ons in the World of Mages and the more character driven story-line of Simon, Baz, Agatha and Penelope (plus, the gay wizard romance — let’s admit, the main draw of Rowell’s novel is her adorable romantic plots, and this one is no exception).
Overall, I liked all the characters and thought they were quite well-rounded. They made me giggle and, as much as I hate to admit it, I got REALLY wrapped up in shipping Simon / Baz. As a reader, I could have used more scenes of tension and perhaps a bit more introspection on behalf of Simon. Baz knew what he wanted.
One thing I think Rowell did very well was developing her world in one novel. She referenced things that had happened to the characters in previous years and built on that without having actually written a prequel / sequel. Also, despite disliking Agatha’s character, I did like the ending Rowell created for her. I also appreciated the character diversity Rowell strove for.
One thing I will acknowledge is that Carry On might not have been as successful without Harry Potter blazing the initial trail. As a culture, we have already accepted the existence of a magical wizard college that “Normals” can’t see. We have accepted the inherent controversy that comes with seeking power within said magical world. Perhaps, without this implied acceptance, Carry On would not have tugged at my heartstrings the way it did.
That said, this is not the Harry Potter series. It is it’s own story. And, while the first third of the novel is a little slower than the rest (I didn’t find it unenjoyable, it’s just slower, more character-building) — the last third of the novel is just…. yeah. And, with the overwhelming amount of novels that provide us with unhappy endings, sometimes my favorite novels are ones where the characters are put through the ringer and left still standing at the end. Better for it all.
This book is adorable. Read it immediately. Then tell me, so we can talk about it.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended For: Fellow geeks, anyone willing to get lost in a magical world, Harry Potter / Rainbow Rowell fans