Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
Ever since I heard Rowell was actually going to write this, I’ve really wanted it. I mean, it explicitly features two boys being idiots in love, in exactly the same way as Rowell’s other books portray heterosexual couples being stupid (and sweet, and impossible, and teenage). And people were so excited about it — it seemed pretty mainstream. So that was cool. And then of course it takes an adversarial relationship a la Harry and Draco and develops it into love, which is one of my things.
Did it live up to my hopes? Hell yes. I was worried about a couple of things: in Fangirl, the world of Carry On was basically created to take the place of Harry Potter. I don’t actually like Harry Potter (sorry), and I was also worried that this would just turn out to be a serial-numbers-filed-off version. That didn’t happen: I was actually impressed with the way Rowell constructed her fantasy world, especially the power of words — and the way that pervaded the whole narrative: the worst thing to do to a mage is to steal their words, and at one point Simon says something trying to make it true. Perfect.
Another concern was, well, I didn’t like Draco. I thought he was slimy and cowardly. Now, Baz isn’t perfect — but he’s a worthy lead, flaws and all. He doesn’t always do the right thing, and he has opinions that we might not 100% endorse, but he’s in a difficult position and he works with what he’s got.
Finally, I was worried that Simon and Baz being gay (or bisexual, or demisexual as some people suggest, in Simon’s case) would be a Big Thing. Actually, it shockingly isn’t. There are a few points where Simon isn’t sure about it, but it isn’t a Big Angsty Issue. And Rowell writes them well; I love the way Baz only calls Simon by name when they’re “being soft with each other”. It all feels pretty boyish.
As for the rest, well — Penelope Bunce, guys. She’s all the great things about Hermione and Ron in one, without the annoying pettiness. And she has an amazing friendship with Simon — yes, a boy and a girl being friends in YA without complications, without romance. Hurrah!
Despite the fact that Agatha got to have a voice, I didn’t feel like it was quite fair to her. She seemed fickle and cowardly, when wanting to have a life of her own was a perfectly reasonable wish, and wanting to be loved now and for herself, not as the Happy Ever After In Waiting. Still, the way it examines the tropes of the Chosen One and the Happily Ever After are welcome and interesting.
I didn’t want it to be over, and I am definitely reading it again in future.
“It’s okay,” Baz says. “It’s all okay now.” One arm is tight around Simon’s back, and the other is smoothing his hair out of his face. “You did it, didn’t you?” Baz whispers. “You defeated the Humdrum. You saved the day, you courageous fuck. You absolute nightmare.”