Warning: Review may contain spoilers for Fangirl and Carry On (Simon Snow #1) by Rainbow Rowell
Sometimes you just pick up book and it is exactly what you need. It is witty, and silly, and just… perfection. That is how I felt reading Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell. I picked it up on vacation, and it was such an easy read that captured my attention I felt myself wanting to go to bed so I could read a bit more each night.
I was late to the party. I had heard people talk about Fangirl and Carry On for years, but I avoided it. Here is a secret you do not know about me: I do not like contemporary fiction. I primarily read anything paranormal, sci-fi, or fantasy. My rationale (albeit, I understand it is not a great one) is that real life is so boring, why do I need to read a story about it? The fact that I felt like I HAD to read Fangirl before starting Carry On kept me from picking up this series sooner.
Well, about six months ago I had a large road trip ahead of me and needed a break from what I was currently reading so I looked on my Libby library app to see what was available. Low and behold, Carry On was available in audiobook but Fangirl was checked out. I put a hold on Fangirl and started listening to Carry On. Within a few minutes I was laughing out loud. My husband asked me, ‘What are you listening to?’. When I explained I felt so meta. ‘Well, it is technically a fan fiction that comes from a book about a girl writing fan fiction about a Harry Potter-like book’. *CUE HUSBAND’S JUDGY LOOK*
Anyway, I instantly loved it. I loved that it captured so many issues so many of us have with Harry Potter and turned them on their head. The Dumbledore-like character ends up being bad (and dead in the end), the teachers are overall completely unhelpful, and the most powerful spells are the most ridiculous things – nursery rhymes. Brilliant, bloody brilliant.
So, after I devoured Carry On, I went back to Fangirl. I do not think it is necessary to read it to enjoy Carry On, though in hindsight I would advise it. It gives you so much backstory on Simon, Penelope, Baz, and Agatha that helps you understand Carry On more fully. I will be honest, was it my favorite? No. But I liked it well enough.
I found Cath (the main character) and her college experience to be overall very relatable to mine and what I feel like what a lot of us ‘nerds’ experience. Moving away to college will make most people feel like the oddball for at least a little bit. You are thrown out of your comfort zone, you are no longer a child, and for people who have a fandom or have their ‘tribe’ online, it can be a dance to try to relate to others who may not be into the same geeky stuff that makes up your identity. While Cath may not be a completely likable character, she is real. I see that a lot in Simon as well, especially in Wayward Son but I digress, let us get to the review.
We pick up a few months after the end of Carry On – in Penny and Simon’s apartment, which Simon apparently has not left. It is quickly apparent that Simon is depressed and struggling to find his way after he has defeated the Humdrum. Penny and Baz are incredibly concerned and little does Baz know Simon is considering breaking up with him. Not in a ‘I do not love him anymore’ way, but in a ‘he can do better than me, I suck’ way. Penny is equally concerned about Simon’s wellbeing and their friend (and Simon’s ex-girlfriend) Agatha. Agatha left everyone behind and moved to America in an attempt to leave magic behind because it ‘always almost gets her killed’, and while she is slowly attempting to ghost Penny, Penny is not having it. To remedy Simon’s foul mood and for a chance to see Agatha, Penny surprises Simon and Baz with tickets to America.
As soon as they step on American soil, nothing goes as planned and the trio quickly realizes that their miscalculation on how magic works in the States could be deadly. They pit stop in Chicago to visit Penny’s long-distance boyfriend, a fellow magician, and who was under the impression that he and Penny broke up awhile ago. Awkward.
After that quick pit stop, they begin traveling across the United States to see Agatha who it has become clear is wrapped up in some sort of bad situation and may be kidnapped. Hilarity ensues as they blunder their way towards California in a vintage Mustang convertible and encounter lots of hostile and different magical creatures and a (not so) Normal, Shep. Who saves their butts from vampires at a Ren Faire. Quintessential America (apparently).
From start to finish I laughed out loud. Rainbow does a great job of infusing heart into her characters. Even though there is not a huge amount of lore or backstory out there about Simon, Baz, and company it feels like they are old friends. It is incredibly easy to just melt into the story and get wrapped in this comfortable feeling of being a part of something.
It is also extremely satisfying to get an ‘after’ no matter how silly it may be. Most of the fantasy stories end for us as readers when the evil is slain and the ‘Chosen One’ can move on – the ending wrapped up in a nice little bow (think Frodo going to the undying lands, Harry Potter marrying Ginny, etc).
Rainbow has proved to us over and over that Simon is not your typical chosen one and he does not get his happily ever after (at least not right now). I have seen people complain that Simon is not likeable, but I put him in the same category as Quinten Clearwater from Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. They are unlikeable because they are real – they are a reflection of us and our everyday struggles. Do we want to read about a selfish, depressed character in our fantasy stories? Maybe you do not, but it is refreshing to me. These gray characters who probably handle situations like 90% of us would handle it if put in the same situation, do not necessarily make for admirable characters but they are damn relatable.
Though the romance is light, I loved seeing the progression of Simon and Baz’s relationship. I would not consider it healthy necessarily, as they were stuck in a ‘should we break up?’ dilemma more or less the whole book. However, their stolen moments were incredibly sweet and the devotion they show each other when they think the other one cannot see. I ship them, I ship them hard.
Last but not least, this book is filled with the wonderful one liners and humor. From the ridiculous spells (America is no better than the United Kingdom) to the random encounters with half creatures in the middle of nowhere, it is just hilarious and outrageous. It makes the book (which is not long clocking in at 356 pages) go by too fast. I just pray we do not have such a long wait like was between Carry On and Wayward Son (4 years!).