publication date: 2015
Carry On was another entrant in the “Chosen One” category, a la Harry Potter, Frodo, and countless other (usually YA) novels wherein a main character is given Herculean tasks and, after many trials and tribulations, completes them. However, our hero Simon Snow wasn’t necessarily the wizard any of us would have chosen for the job. He’s a self-proclaimed “thug” who thought more about food than magic. In fact, Rainbow Rowell precisely and perfectly constructed characters that broke the mold of the genre. A girlfriend who was enamored with the bad guy. A mentor who was never around to counsel because he was off raiding people’s houses in a costume and a funny mustache. A wizarding world with cars, and laptops, and smart phones.
Rowell’s characters were superb and maybe the best thing about a very good book. I loved how realistic they were. Her characters went through shoplifting phases at 14. Some cursed, some drank, some fell in love and lust. And some just wanted out of the game entirely. This book reflected real people who just happened to be magic, and Rowell did a great job of crafting and describing her characters. For example, Simon’s girlfriend wasn’t interested in waiting around for him to complete his destiny:
‘I want to be someone’s right now, Simon, not their happily ever after. I don’t want to be the prize at the end. The thing you get if you beat all the bosses.’
And, as mentioned above, Simon was kind of a lovable doof. Here’s a description of Simon through the eyes of his roommate:
[Simon] likes to be the first person down to breakfast, Chomsky knows why. It’s 6 A.M., and he’s already banging around our room like a cow who accidentally wandered up here.
Beyond creating wonderful characters, Rowell created, as she always does, a wonderful love story. I won’t get too much into the identity of the characters, but Rowell created two young men whose relationship seemed like a remarkable inevitability. Rowell had a talent of focusing on the minute details of the people in love, without being overly descriptive or maudlin. For example, here’s a description of Simon from the guy who had a crush on him:
[Simon] swallows. [He] has the longest neck and the showiest swallow I’ve ever seen. His chin juts out and his Adam’s apple catches – it’s a whole scene.
Beyond the adorable love story with its delightful minutiae, the plot itself was actually quite good. There were twists and turns and several times where I was in suspense. Rowell crafted a story with sensible internal rules, solvable mysteries, and several believable villains. However, the few flaws in the book came from the plot. There were scenes that were muddled and character motivations that relied on suspension of disbelief to make any sense.
Overall, Rowell created an affectionate parody that perfectly satirized this beloved genre, while still creating characters and a story that will probably be a beloved part of the genre canon.
5/6: seek this book out