Let’s talk YA fantasy today. I recently finished a YA backlist title, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.
This came highly recommended to me by bookworms that I trust, so it has been on my list for quite some time. I had read other of Rowell’s work (Eleanor & Park, Fangirl), both of which I loved, so I felt sure Carry On would be no different. I also read this in anticipation of Rowell’s most recent novel, Wayward Son, the follow up to Carry On.
The beginning of this novel was a little rough for me. I am a Harry Potter enthusiast, and at the onset of this story, I felt like it ran a bit too parallel to Harry’s story. Everything seemed very reminiscent of the world J.K. Rowling created in Harry Potter and I didn’t love that. HOWEVER (and this is a big however!), as Rowell’s story progressed, I came to realize that her story was not a rip off at all, but was paying homage to Harry’s world and other fantasy stories. After all, Carry On came to life in Fangirl, and was based on the concept of fan fiction. So, I guess what I am saying is I came around to the world Rowell creates in Carry On and her main character, Simon Snow. (Also, be warned...Carry On is definitely more gritty than the Harry Potter series. There is A LOT more swearing.)
Carry On is set mostly at the Watford School of Magicks, a school for young magicians, and the main protagonist is Simon Snow, the Chosen One, who has been prophesied as the most powerful wizard of all time who will defeat the evil Humdrum (the bad guy). Ummmm...do you see why I saw a slight (massive) parallel to Harry Potter?!
What is amazing about Rowell’s characters is that they are so relatable and authentic. She just writes teenagers very well. AND you know I love a novel written in alternating perspectives, and this is the way Simon’s story is told. Each chapter is told from a specific character’s point of view. Of course, Simon is one of these, but also included are Baz, Simon’s roommate, Penny, Simon’s best friend, Agatha, his girlfriend, and occasionally the Mage, the headmaster of Watford and Lucy, a mysterious woman whose voice is heard only in brief snippets.
There is a lot happening in Carry On. At times, the narrative seems pretty frenetic, but at the heart of the story and the constant throughout are the friendships and relationships amongst the key characters. Each character is complicated in his or her own right. I like that we get to know each character’s background and motivation. To compare it to Harry Potter, at times, everything in Rowling’s books are so focused on Harry, we never get to know too much about the motivations of other characters except in terms of how their motivations relate to Harry. In Carry On, we get a lot of back story on the principle characters, and that helps us, as readers. understand their decisions. I really liked this plot device in Carry On. It made for really dynamic and well-rounded characters. Personally, my favorite relationships are the ones between Simon and Baz and Simon and Penny. Both are unique in their own way and both provide a basis for which the reader wants to know more. There are some surprising revelations throughout the course of the story, and I think readers who like fantasy and angsty teenage sagas (ME!) will enjoy Carry On.
If you liked Harry Potter, I think you will like Carry On. If you like YA fantasy, I think you will like Carry On. If you don’t like either of these categories, Carry On might not be the book for you. (So, Mom, I know you are reading this. Probably this one isn’t for you. :) )
Bottom Line: 4/5 I liked this book. A lot. I actually love some of the characters (lookin’ at you Baz). I think the fact that I had read other Rainbow Rowell books might have set my expectations a little high. And the blatant homage to Harry Potter put me off a bit in the beginning. That being said, this is a solid and sometimes surprising YA fantasy read. Carry On was good enough to make me want to preorder Wayward Son. So, that is a testament to how much I liked Carry On. Read it if this type of book is your jam. By the end, you will be wanting more!
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