Rittika's Review 3/5 Stars
Carry On, a new Rainbow Rowell YA novel, reads like a well-written Harry Potter slash fanfic. The storyline is essentially a “chosen one” story, where Simon Snow parallels as Harry Potter, Baz Pitch parallels as Draco Malfoy, and Penelope Bunce parallels as Hermione Granger (my personal favorite). I’m pretty sure Ron Weasley never shows up in here (but correct me if I’m wrong).
The novel thrusts the reader into a direct, duller, parallel of Hogwarts, referred to as Watford, but slowly digresses into a completely unexpected storyline. As in any “chosen one” novel, Simon Snow is prophesized to “save the Magick World from destruction.” However, unlike Harry Potter, Snow is completely incapable of controlling his magick, and is actually semi-pathetic as a hero (which is refreshing for a change. I’m tired of pining after perfect fictional boy characters that don’t exist in real life.) The novel is fully aware that it is an almost-replica of Harry Potter, and in fact, plays up on this aspect towards the start of the novel.
Nonetheless, Rowell has amazingly managed to create something familiar, yet different, through Carry On. I feel the Harry Potter ambiance sneaking through, but at the same time, there’s a completely foreign aura emanating from this novel. Of course, this is a slash (gay fanfiction) story, so Simon and Baz totally get it on, but that’s not the only thing that sets this novel apart from JK Rowling’s outstanding series.
Carry On is described as the final novel in the Simon Snow series, and even though Rowell hasn’t written any of the other 7 books, she still manages to hurl the reader into the plotline, and captivate him/her with her witty sense of humor and the ultimate feel-good cheese factor (I’ll admit it: I’m a total sucker for cheesiness. Cheesy anything really. Cheesy novels, cheesy stories, cheesy movies, cheesy quesadillas– anything with cheese.) But don’t fear– this cheese-factor isn’t the sickeningly cliche type. It's like watching Titanic and crying over and over and over and over again, and spilling popcorn on the floor. Not that I've ever done that.
Getting into the actual meat of the story, I kind of loathed the alternating points of views of multiple characters. Hearing both Baz’s and Simon’s perspective really allowed me to connect to both sides of the love story. However, in my opinion, it was kind of unnecessary to have perspectives from the other characters as well. In fact, it got confusing at times, and it just sets up the story to read even more like fanfiction (which may or may not have been what Rowell was aiming for, but I still regard this as a demerit to an actual novel). Even though the characters themselves were extremely enjoyable, I still believe that fundamentally, the addition of these perspectives was detrimental, because it was occasionally confusing and deviated from the actual plotline.
My favorite aspect of the novel was the typical “I hate you so much that I love you” story. I really connected to both Baz and Simon, and felt their emotions as they slowly realized that their hate was a thinly veiled version of love. I, personally, love well-done cliches, because it’s fantastic to read about relationships that would never really happen in real-life.
Carry On really gives the reader a sense of fulfillment from the progression of Baz and Simon’s hatred into love. It thrusts you into this magical world, so similar to that of Rowling’s, and focuses on the love story, rather than Simon’s real journey as a hero. And sometimes, it’s nice to realize that love can be as profound as heroic actions. Rowell has created something palatable, and tugs on emotions of having a crush on someone you hate.
But, despite my praises for Rowell, I did have one major issue with this book: the inherent bi-erasure. Though I’m not bi, I know many people that are, and I find it disturbing that Rowell completely glazes over the idea of being interested in two different genders.
Seriously. People are not black and white. It’s not always as simple as “I’m gay” versus “I’m straight”. Simon began questioning himself on whether he was gay or not, and then just abruptly stopped thinking about it. That bothers me.
I’ve seen posts where people say that they liked the fact that Simon didn’t officially sexuality-identify. Okay. That’s fine. I kind of like that too.
But let’s not forget how Simon tried to categorize himself as gay versus straight. Why wasn’t bi an option? The reader never had to figure out whether Simon was bi versus gay versus straight or just plain ol’ attracted to Baz. I just feel like it should have been an option for Simon to actually contemplate while he was kissing Baz.
Aside from that, Carry On really was fantastic. I just feel like this was something important to mention to the reader.
Carry On is a perfect light-read to take you away from the pressure of high school, and re-introduce the mystique of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in a completely different way. Really. Go read it. Right now. Carry on. ;-)
~ spoilers begin here ~
I personally loved Lucy’s backstory, although her initial appearances in the novel were somewhat irrelevant. But as the story progressed, her side-plotline became more intriguing. But Lucy was literally only a part of the novel because Rowell wanted to show that Simon had one parental figure that cared for him, because the Mage was such a terrible father. I also enjoyed Penelope’s witty tone, so similar to that of Hermione (THE FEELS ;-;).
The plotline itself was a little shady, because why would Simon drop all of his issues with the Humdrum to help a guy he hates? He despises Baz, and the Humdrum (who parallels Voldy) is a legitimate concern to the World of Mages. Natasha Grimm Pitch’s death can wait. She’s been dead for over ten years– that mystery is not an imminent concern. I would have rather seen Baz join cahoots with Simon to fight the Humdrum.
The Humdrum himself is an interesting idea, where he’s just the “imprints” left behind from Simon trying to use magick. Unfortunately, the “final battle” was pretty anticlimactic. The Humdrum apparently needed Simon to “give up” his magick, to fill up the void he created when he was born. Oh wait, and Simon’s father, the Mage, (who Simon doesn’t even know is his dad) is evil, and wants to have Simon’s power for himself. And Ebb, the goat herder, died. Why does she die? This is just as pointless as Hedwig’s death.
The conclusion of the novel was too rushed and too cluttered to actually enjoy. Why was it so simple for Simon to “get rid of” the Humdrum? I was honestly expecting more. Also, why does Simon never realize that the Mage is his father? This makes Lucy’s purpose in the novel even more useless. Why is Simon left with no powers? He’s a Mage, isn’t he? He can’t become a Normal that easily. Rowell ends the novel with so many unanswered questions.
But, I’m really ignoring overt plot holes and all background issues, because at the core, this is a love story– not a real fantasy novel. And the “love” aspect of this novel was utterly fantastic, and so relatable.
Kristen's Review 2/5 Stars
The thing about Carry On is that it’s great, for a fanfiction. See, there’s a difference between a story I’d expect to find in the depths of the internet and an actual, published work of literature. The difference is in the quality of the writing, in the reader’s tolerance for cliches and overused tropes, and in the necessity of the story’s correctness. If Carry On had stayed an unpublished spinoff of Rowell’s earlier novel, Fangirl, it would have been just fine. It would have been a nice, fun read to pass a weekend by. But the thing is, Rainbow Rowell, a bestselling YA author, sat down, wrote this story, sent it to her editor, and had it published as literature. And as literature, Carry On isn’t good.
Here’s the breakdown: it has too many problems for me to have enjoyed it. With an anticlimactic ending, too many plotholes to count, and poorly represented queerness, it was simply not a fulfilling read.
However, the book wasn’t all bad. One of the greatest strengths of this novel was world-building; the politics of the mage (magical) world fascinated me. Carry On creates an argument with no obvious right answer, and the lack of moral resolution until the end made the political aspect of the world incredibly effective in supporting the story’s main plot.
(Keep reading for spoilers.)
Other positives of the novel included Lucy’s story, which was much more compelling than the main plotline. Though her story only served to give background to the novel, it was powerful and interesting and left me wanting more of it. In addition to Lucy, I found myself adoring Penelope Bunce’s character, who is wonderfully well rounded and enjoyable to read. She comes off very realistically, and when I found myself losing interest in the book, Penny pulled me right back in.
Moving on to my issues with this book, let’s begin at the ending. Anticlimactic to the extreme. The book builds up to a battle finale. Something massive. Something incredible. The book builds up an amazingly original idea for a fight: Simon vs. Humdrum (Simon vs. Himself), as well as everyone vs. the Mage. But after some relatively civil conversation, a peaceful transfer of power, and a mere two spells, the whole thing is over. We don’t get to see Simon’s character develop under the circumstances of his final, epic battle. We don’t get a grand throwdown with the Humdrum, leaving Simon with the understanding that his only option is to take the greatest risk of all - giving power to his enemy. (Which would have been interesting as that’s a huge theme of the book: giving your power to your enemy, who maybe isn’t the enemy after all.) We don’t get to see Simon’s realization that the Mage isn’t so wonderful after all, and of course, we don’t get to see any revelation by Simon that the Mage is his father. Why would Rowell set that story line up and not mention it ever again? By ignoring this plotline, (which was honestly the best part of the book,) Rowell renders all of Lucy’s chapters as an unnecessary backstory drop. What is the point of the reader knowing that the Mage is Simon’s father if no characters ever do anything with this information?
This brings me to the plot hole problem. If Simon’s parents are both fantastically talented mages, shouldn’t Simon have some of his own powers unrelated to whatever the Mage/Davy did to him before he was born? As far as I can tell, mages don’t give birth to Normals. So why does Simon become one after he gives his excess power to the Humdrum? And this is just one of the gaping holes in Rowell’s story. Why did the Mage send vampires to attack the nursery with young Baz in it in the first place? Shouldn’t he have just sent them to attack Natasha Grimm-Pitch if he wanted her dead? Why go to the nursery at all? And why is the Mage so strict about cell phone usage? If mages get their powers from pop culture, shouldn’t they stay as connected to Normals as possible? And Penny’s ‘Nonsense!’ spell - why did it work on Simon once only to never work again? And of course, what happens to Nicodemus? He’s so desperate to save his sister and help Baz, but when Baz rejects his help, Nico just vanishes. He disappears from the story, not to appear in the final fight, not to find his sister, not even to mourn her. The only reason he’s even in the story at all is to give Rowell a way to force Simon and Baz to collaborate when Natasha name drops him to Simon. All he is a plot device, and an unnecessary one at that. Carry On just confused me, leaving me asking questions about characters and subplots that were brought up then ignored once the author no longer needed them.
Something a lot of fanfictions are known for is their misunderstanding of how being LGBTQ+ works. They’ve developed a new kind of Kinsey Scale (usually known as a scale of 1-6, where 1 represents exclusively same gender attraction, and 6 represents exclusively opposite gender attraction, and the numbers in the middle are a scale between the two), with three points. Gay, Straight, and Straight with an Exception. If you need an example of any of these three, I encourage you to turn to Carry On. There are straight characters, there are gay characters. And then there’s Simon. He frequently talks about how he’s not sure if he’s gay, which is definitely a realistic and valid character choice. However, although he and Baz begin dating, the word ‘bisexual’ is never even mentioned, nor any other sexuality which involves attraction to the same gender that isn’t gay. Straight with an Exception. The fact that bisexuality is not even mentioned once by a boy, clearly attracted to another boy, and isn’t sure of his sexuality, comes off to me a bi-erasure, or the tendency to ignore, remove, or falsify the existence of bisexuality. Even if Simon prefers not to label his sexuality, shouldn’t bisexuality have been even mentioned in passing?
In response to this, I contacted Rainbow Rowell via her Twitter account, saying that Carry On seemed to contain a clear example of bi-erasure. She responded, saying that Simon has never been attracted to a girl, so bisexuality was never on his radar, and his interactions with Agatha (his ex-girlfriend) were only platonic. She stated “I really thought about this while I was writing; the choices I made weren’t thoughtless or careless.” So an active decision was made to not even mention bisexuality in this book? This seems like a ridiculous choice to make. Simon has had a long term girlfriend of many years, and even if he was not attracted to her, compulsory heterosexuality ought to have at least put bisexuality was on the table. I find it both ignorant and offensive to make a conscious choice not to even mention the word “bisexuality” in a novel about a teenage boy questioning his own sexuality. Carry On is a book which markets to LGBTQ+ youths. It’s a YA novel, modeled after a gay fanfiction of Harry Potter. To choose not to even acknowledge the existence of bisexuality in a novel such as this grossly misrepresents young queer people, and it is something which I find to be extremely offensive.
Carry On is a nice story. It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s a page turner. It has some cool ideas. But overall, it falls short of being something I would classify as good literature. The plot is poorly structured, full of holes and failing to live up to high expectation of the ending, and the novel is incredibly problematic in its representation of queerness. Carry On seems to me like it should have stayed as what it was intended to be - simply a fanfiction. It isn’t enough to be anything more than that.