Book Review

Carry On

I’ve heard a lot about this book, but wanted to check it out for myself.

Carry On

  • Author: Rainbow Rowell
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: May 9, 2017
  • Publisher: Wednesday Books
  • Series: Simon Snow #1

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Bad would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters.

This is the first Rainbow Rowell story I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’ve heard that her writing is problematic, and I went into this reading aware of that, so maybe I was a little more attuned to that. And there were really strong fanfic vibes of the HP series, but with more diversity, although I got some problematic vibes from that too. I loved the fact that the brainy sidekick was definitely brown, and there was more gay representation in the story. In addition, there was more diversity involved in the school — not just mages attended classes at Watford, but other magickal creatures were allowed as well.

I liked the basic story. Usually, Chosen One stories involve characters who are strong practitioners, have hidden strengths, and while they have their own struggles, generally do pretty well in most of their endeavors. Simon is certainly not that. When we meet him, he’s a hot mess. He can barely practice magic; even though he seems to have a lot of it, he clearly can’t control it at all. Things seem to be falling apart in most areas of his life. He’s an interesting character, and while he’s pretty offensive, which I’ll talk about in a bit, he’s a decent guy at heart, so it’s hard not to like him. The plot was interesting, and I couldn’t quite figure out what to expect. I was consistently surprised by the plot twists, which was a nice surprise. It took me a bit to get involved in the story, but I kept getting more into the story the further I read.

Now, for the problematic aspects. The first thing that I noticed shocked me to the point where my jaw dropped and I had to reread it to make sure that it was actually in print and someone had thought it was a good idea to include in a book. When Simon first meets his friend Penelope, who is of Indian descent, she introduces herself and he comes right out and says:

“I didn’t know someone like you could be named Penelope.”

Once Penelope sets him straight, he quickly apologizes, and they become best friends. However, I also realized that he grew up in group homes and actually had very little in the way of social training. He’s painfully awkward in literally all situations, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to spout off microaggressions willy-nilly.

Obviously, there’s a long-standing relationship between Simon and his girlfriend (Agatha), which ends early in the book. However, there’s also a connection between Simon and Baz, and when sparks fly, I was surprised to see that the *genuine* romantic feelings between Simon and Agatha were erased to make way for his new suddenly gay identity. I was fully expecting there to be some mention of bisexuality since Simon was really into Agatha and that didn’t just disappear, but apparently that identity doesn’t exist in the Watford world? So I was really disappointed to see that erasure of bisexuality.

Initially, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the backstory, and wondered if it would have been better if the series started out earlier. But as I continued reading, more was explained. I liked the book, but I can definitely see where RR’s problematic reputation came from, and that definitely detracted from my rating. I was entertained by the story, but this definitely wouldn’t be a book that I’d list as a pride recommendation (because of the bi erasure), or the diversity (because of the microaggressions). If you’re looking for an example of a good story with problematic themes? This is your book!

10 replies »

  1. I was also pretty annoyed by the constant “Wait, does this mean I *didn’t* like Agatha AT ALL???” comments. Like, sure, since you weren’t totally in love with the first girl you ever dated, that MUST mean you don’t like girls AT ALL.

    I feel like misquoting Agatha herself here: Bisexuality. Exists.

    As for the microaggressions, I think that was Rowell’s way of showing that even an overall “good guy” can have some ingrained prejudices. The important thing is whether he’s called out for it and learns from it.

    I think sometimes it’s more helpful to see a protagonist learn from their mistakes than to be perfect from the start — because that shows readers who have their own problematic attitudes that it’s *possible* to change. Otherwise, the hero would seem like an impossible ideal — because no one is born totally enlightened. They have to learn and struggle with their assumptions, and not give up just because it’s not happening overnight.

    The one thing that truly bothered me was Ebb’s ending. She’s the only semi-explicitly transgender woman in the story and she has to sacrifice herself to a madman?? And somehow, Simon’s healing powers don’t extend to her (how tragically convenient)??? I do love that she’s the one who saves Agatha (women being each others’ heroes!) but I’d have MUCH preferred a Frozen ending, with *both* of them surviving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was absolutely heartbroken about Ebb! But somehow I missed that she was trans? And of course Simon couldn’t heal her … naturally. But I feel like her ending goes with her being pure and sacrificing herself for others and the good of the magical community in some twisted/sucky way. 😫 I would have preferred her surviving and being headmistress!

      Liked by 1 person

      • YES!!! I love that Mitali takes over, but Ebb would have given every student a therapy goat! Mandatory goat yoga classes for everyone!

        The hint about her being trans was pretty subtle — when Simon’s chatting with her one day, she mentions that her full name is Ebenezer. I thought it was a good way to show how organically and non-awkwardly J K. Rowling could have *shown* that Dumbledore was gay *within* the books, rather than just joking about it in an interview.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Right? Plus, and I can’t believe I didn’t mention this in my post, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SELKIES FOUR??? In Fangirl, Rowell tells us that the fourth Simon Snow book is called Simon Snow and the Selkies Four. WHERE ARE THE SELKIES, RAINBOW?! 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s fun, but now I’m hearing about some problematic portrayals of non-white characters there, too. It’s starting to sound like Rowell’s entire library is an attempted-few-steps-forward, actual-few-steps-back kind of situation 😐

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, it’s definitely problematic. I’m not thrilled about her stuff anyway. Plus, with the abundance of awesome books by AOC, why settle for problematic content by white authors?

        Liked by 1 person

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