Last week was spring break at my AmeriCorps site, and I got the infinite joy of spending a few days in a cabin in Hocking Hills, Ohio with my friends and coworkers. As always when I go on vacation, I expected to get more reading done than I actually did. While I made a valiant effort with Reading Lolita in Tehran, the fact that our “six person” cabin was actually more fit for four made it a bit awkward to sit and read while everyone else was socializing. Therefore, I’m still working through my serious bit of nonfiction.
Once I got back to home, the beautiful weather made me want to go on long walks alone, which of course made me want to download a lovely new audiobook. Since I loved Fangirl: A Novel so much, I decided to give Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On a go, continuing my trend of mainly listening to nonfiction and YA as audiobooks.
Based on the snippets from Fangirl I was expecting the book to mainly be a play on Harry Potter. In a lot of ways, it was. What I wasn’t expecting was all of the interesting elements that Rowell plays with throughout the novel. This book takes the “chosen one” trope and spins it on its head in an interesting way (I won’t go into too much detail, because spoilers). It also examines the role of the Dumbledore figure, exploring how even our mentors are only flawed human beings (or mages, in this case).
A lot of this book felt a bit like the author flailing her hands at the implausible elements of Harry Potter that she personally wanted to see examined, which was super fun and super interesting. Simon Snow, the book’s “chosen one” is a lot more humanly flawed than Harry Potter. No disparagement meant to The Boy Who Lived or to JK Rowling, but frankly Harry ought to be a lot more screwed up by the end of the series. He’s been dealing with impossible pressures and has to, like, actually die and come back to life to defeat Voldemot. You’re telling me he’s just gonna grow up to be a normal dude after that? Doubtful. This made me relish the realistic ending of Carry On, which (mild spoiler, possibly?) sees its “chosen one” in magical psychiatric therapy for his issues. Because yes, that would probably happen!
I also really enjoyed the rotating narration, which allows the story to be more full and complex than a single-narrator story. It also allows the reader to learn a few things that the individual characters themselves will never learn, which is occasionally heartbreaking but definitely fun. The shifting narration did, in my opinion, get a bit awkward in my opinion when the perspective shifts back and forth between Simon and Baz during their first kiss, extending the moment in a way that felt a bit too lengthy, leaving me to picture them standing still in a sort of slow motion liplock, but this may have been a product of the audiobook versus on-the-page experience. (The narrator was excellent, but audiobooks always have a bit of a different pacing to them than the physical text).
Speaking of Simon and Baz’s first kiss… I was so curious when I started reading the novel whether Rowell would make what is fanfiction in Fangirl canon in her full length novel about the characters Cat so loved. I had a small excited arm flailing fest when Baz (spoiler) admits to being hopelessly in love with Simon. But then! What if Simon didn’t feel the same way? Simon’s intentional lack of self reflection throughout the novel created a lot of suspense around this issue which, as someone who never quite got over her youthful obsession with the innocence of young love, rings all my bells.
I will speak cautiously here, as I am quite new to the world of fiction portraying LGBTQ characters, but I really liked how casually Simon and Baz react to what happens between them. Simon does a bit of wondering about his sexuality, which seems normal when moving from kissing a girl to kissing a boy, but his focus largely stays with what makes more sense to worry about at the time–the infinite pressure of being “the chosen one.” Baz, while admitting that his family doesn’t like it for heir-needing reasons, accepts his sexuality as fact. The book doesn’t hang wring about the same sex relationship that becomes an integral part of the plot; it just is. I’m all about books that explore the vast spectrum of human experience, so I liked how the book took this relationship like any other new relationship and didn’t over-emphasize it as something other.
One more, lighter note–the spells Rowell creates are super fun. In her world, instead of latin, spells get their power from phrases that are spoken often. This means that poems and song lyrics are the most magical things around, which is both funny and a powerful statement about the power of language and literature.
This is getting to be one of my longest posts ever, so I’ll probably leave it here, even though I could say loads more. Carry On does a nice job of walking the line between exploring and poking holes in YA tropes while still becoming a gripping, interesting story in its own right. If you like YA fantasy at all, read this book. Do the thing. And then read Fangirl, if you haven’t already.