Rowell, Rainbow. Carry On. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2015.
Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On follows Simon Snow, a Normal and the Chosen One, to his final year at the Watford School of Magicks. When he returns to wizard school, he is perturbed by his missing, villainous vampire roommate Baz, conflicted over catching his girlfriend Agatha holding hands with Baz right before summer break, and struggling with how to fulfill his “Great Destiny” (35). Simon’s best friend Penelope provides plenty of insight, quirkiness, and moral support while Simon obsesses over the elements in his life he cannot control. One night, Simon is visited by the ghost of Baz’s mother, which catapults Simon, Baz, and Penelope into a mystery of prophetic proportions.
The beginning (as in the first 150 pages) of the novel is extremely slow-going. I didn't care for the allusions to Harry Potter - Simon is a Normal and he's an orphan and he's the Chosen One and he befriends Ebb, a sheepherder/groundskeeper... So, die-hard Harry Potter fans may love the similarities, but it definitely left me wanting more than what seemed to be a more grown-up version of Harry Potter with bad language thrown in. Additionally, there did not seem to be anything of much consequence happening - Simon's position as the Chosen One, as well as his unfortunate magical ineptitude were clear, as was his obsession with Baz. I would have appreciated it if Book One had been more concise because once I started Book Two and Baz appeared, I was caught up in the story.
Rowell presents a valid commentary on societal inclusion/exclusion and the divide between social classes. However, I think the most striking aspect of Carry On was her attention to creating a diverse, young adult fantasy novel. I attended an author panel entitled "Diversity is More Than a Hashtag" at the North Texas Teen Book Festival in April. During the discussion, Cindy Pon, author of Serpentine, expressed her desire for authentic and diverse protagonists in all genres of literature. She created a Chinese protagonist for her novel because, growing up, there were no novels that included main characters with which she could identify culturally. The worlds of books should mirror the diversity in the world around us. White characters dominate all genres of literature, and minorities still read and identify with those stories. White readers would, similarly, still identify with more diverse characters, as well as broaden their understanding of various cultures. There is literally no reason to exclude minorities as the heroes or heroines in novels. In the case of Carry On, Rowell beautifully created a fantasy novel, in which the two leading characters are homosexual. What makes that so fantastic is that it is a fantasy novel - the main characters just happen to be gay. Most of the LGBTQ YA I have read is realistic fiction, and the purpose is to show the evolution of owning one’s sexuality. But Rowell is not as focused on that; instead, she throws it out there nonchalantly, so the reader accepts it as a given and does not question the validity of having homosexual heroes. Baz owns and is comfortable with his sexuality and, at the end of the novel, Simon states, “I suppose I am gay; my therapist says it’s not even in the top five things I have to sort out right now” (515). With the progress in gay rights and the passing of gay marriage, sexuality should no longer be a cultural or societal anxiety. The LGBTQ community is just as human as anyone else; there’s no reason that sexuality should prevent a tale from being told or cause that tale to become a spectacle rather than a story. I appreciate Rowell for providing me with characters I have never encountered before and with which I easily (after the first 150 pages) fell in love.
Aside from the mastery Rowell utilized to address diversity, other elements of Carry On did not quite meet my expectations. The back cover of the book quotes Lev Grossman as stating that the novel is “funny and shocking,” so I had planned on laughing. Though it did not evoke laughter like Andrew Smith novels, I did end up finding it amusing. I thoroughly enjoyed the running joke about the numpties, as well as any description of Fiona, who “likes to swear like a Normal” and "thinks she’s punk” (156). The spells, on the other hand, which are derived from songs or popular phrases, should be charming, but are obnoxious instead. However, at the same time, I have to give Rowell props for alluding to some awesome music - most obviously Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Lastly, the Mage’s corruption was predictable, and I thought it was strange that, with the intelligence of the characters, they did not acknowledge that the Mage and Lucy were Simon’s parents or that Simon did fulfill the prophesy, just not in the way they expected. Despite this, it was a witty read, and I would suggest taking a chance on it.