Review | Carry On by Rainbow Rowell


carryonTitle: Carry On (2015)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Read:  20th-23rd November 2016
Genre: young-adult; fantasy; LGBT
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Carry On is an unconventional “spin-off” from Rainbow Rowell’s widely-popular YA Fangirla book which I loved and which probably gave me much too high expectations for this novel. Bold and brash in its Harry Potter similarities, Rowell tells a story of a Chosen One who doesn’t seem all that focused on defeating The Bad Guy and, rather, seems more concerned about the whereabouts of his obvious evil roommate, a vampire named Baz.

“Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here – it’s their last year at Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up. Carry On is a love letter to love stories and the power of words – to every ‘chosen one’ who ever had more on their mind than saving the world…”

Self-aware and running on a wry sense of humour, Carry On is not shy about having obvious connections, parallels, and subversions of characters and tropes found in the likes of the Harry Potter series. To put it another way – it’s meta as hell. Most people who read Fangirl and learn about the Simon Snow stories that Cath is so obsessed with can’t help but compare it to Harry Potter, I mean it’s blatantly obvious. Baz and Simon are Draco and Harry, enemies who (if you read enough fanfiction) clearly love each other, despite the words of hatred dripping from their mouths every time they meet. Penny is Hermione, bossy and clever. Agatha is… Ginny? (I never quite knew what to make of Agatha, and I felt like the only reason I compared her to Ginny was that Ginny was never a favourite of mine, and neither was Agatha.) The Mage was Dumbledore – the not-even-subtly-shady-as-fuck character egging Simon on to step up to his preordained destiny and Save The World.

“You have to pretend you get an endgame.
You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can’t carry on at all.”

My main problem with the book wasn’t actually technically a problem at all – I’m not sure I actually enjoyed it on its own merit. A large part of Carry On‘s appeal is in its poking-fun at the typical ‘young hero in magical adventure (possibly set in a school) saves the day’ tropes that are now so cemented in the general consciousness thanks to the Harry Potter series. I constantly drew parallels to Harry Potter, and a lot of my enjoyment was in doing so, not in the actual story Rowell was drawing out.

A similar theme is played with in Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Herewhich tells the story of “the rest” of the young people who aren’t The Chosen One, but have their lives affected in some way by the mayhem going on around them whilst The Chosen One fights The Bad Guy. From a slightly different angle to Rowell, Ness interrogates the same ideas of destiny and heroism and good vs. evil that isn’t nearly as clear-cut as it would appear. He studies characters and their concerns whilst all these shenanigans are going on around them – because, yes, they could be involved in the end of the world (or not), but they’re still teenagers with teenager concerns. They’re people, not just tropes of heroes and villains. However, I enjoyed Ness’ book more, I think, because it subverted the tropes and then actually had something profound to say at the end of it all – I’m not sure if Rainbow Rowell did, or whether I just expected more from her. Which isn’t to say that all books must have some kind of profound message, but I wanted a bit more substance from Carry On than I felt I got in the end.

“Just when you think you’re having a scene without Simon, he drops in to remind you that everyone else is a supporting character in his catastrophe.”

That being said, it is an enjoyable romp. Yes, I would use that word – romp. I read Carry On in basically one sitting, so draw from that what you will. It’s funny in its self-awareness and Harry Potter fans won’t be able to help themselves in drawing comparisons and finding humour in where they are aligned and subverted. Baz is a stand-out character whose re-appearance in the narrative after his absence felt like a marker than this novel was finally getting started. If I’m honest, I guessed the “twist” regarding both the Mage and the Insidious Humdrum (aka Voldemort, I mean, The Bad Guy) but I’m not sure if it was meant to be obvious or not. It lacked subtlety, but I’m not entirely sure if that wasn’t Rainbow Rowell’s point right from the off. The storyline itself has little to do with the actual meat of the book – it’s all about Simon/Baz and that aspect of it was what earned it most of the stars I gave it.

“Does it have to be fatal every time? The biting? Couldn’t you just drink some of a person’s blood, then walk away?”
“I can’t believe you’re asking me this, Snow. You, who can’t walk away from half a sandwich.”

Overall, I would have liked a bit more something to the plot, and I apologise if I’ve entirely missed The Point by wanting that on top of all the Simon/Baz goodness. As a novel, I’m just not sure it stands on its own two feet; I don’t think you’d enjoy it nearly as much if you weren’t so heavily invested in, or have grown up with, Harry Potter. For my generation of readers, this story can resonate on a slightly deep level because Rowell’s Carry On gives its characters things that Rowling never did. And Carry On is enjoyable, sure, but will I remember it on its own merit? Possibly not. That being said, if you are someone who read Harry Potter fanfiction (or shipped Drarry), you’ll probably adore this book, because I can’t deny that those elements were the things that kept me reading.

“I am going to die kissing Simon Snow. Aleister Crowley, I’m living a charmed life.”

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6 responses to “Review | Carry On by Rainbow Rowell”

    • My favourite thus far has been Fangirl which I rate incredibly highly and is a favourite of mine. I did a review here if you’re interested to learn more but basically it’s a YA contemporary, girl goes to college, writes fanfiction, makes friends, but touches on some incredibly important issues beneath the humour and the feel-good love storyline. The only other Rainbow Rowell book I have read is Landline which I enjoyed but it’s an older protagonist so deals with more “adult” concerns than the likes of Fangirl.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great review :) I really liked Carry On when I read it. I agree it is best if you are familiar/read with Harry Potter before reading Carry On. I found the book funny and cute and liked it for what it is. I don’t think you should take the book too serious, if you know what I mean?


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