Carry On

My past entries here have made it clear that I am a Rainbow Rowell person. Eleanor and Park is one of my favorite books ever, and I loved Attachments and Landline. Plus, Rainbow is adorable both on Twitter and in person. (I am not a stalker, I promise.) But I was nervous when she announced that her latest release would be a sort of spin off of Fangirl. Rebecca reviewed Fangirl here on the blog, and while I think I liked that book more than she did I agreed that the pacing was a little odd. And I was pretty indifferent to a major plot point of that book–the Harry Potter-esque book series that the main character wrote epic, popular fanfiction about. Fangirl didn’t actually contain any of this fictional story, but you heard a lot about it over the course of the book. While I liked Fangirl‘s treatment of fanfiction, I wasn’t particularly interested in the wizard-y story itself–it didn’t seem worth my time to think about these characters that felt extra, extra, fictional (books within books!). So when I heard that Carry On would be an entire book those Harry Potter-like wizards fighting evil at a magical boarding school, I was not excited. But then Nicole Cliffe at The Toast (Best Website Ever) started raving about it, and The Toast published a lovely interview with Rowell. And I always knew I was going to read it, so I bought it to take on vacation. And hear me now: it was so good and I was so wrong.

Honestly, Rowell herself seems to have worked a magic trick here. Carry On is clearly inspired by Harry Potter and uses Harry Potter as scaffolding in some ways, yet has an entirely different feeling. Despite the presence of magic, it’s a bit less of a fairy tale and is grittier and funnier–it definitely has a more modern feeling that I would have predicted, based on the descriptions in Fangirl. The book is clearly meant to the culmination of a long series of adventures (as if it were the seventh Harry Potter) and it refers to all sorts of past events, but I was never lost or confused by what was happening. The writing made it feel like you were jumping right into conversation with beloved characters. Rowell also introduces some new, clever ways of dealing with magic. For example, in her world spells are not made-up Latin-y words, but are cliches or nursery rhymes or lyrics–words whose power comes from people using and knowing them. Like, there’s a scene where a u can’t touch this spell doesn’t work on a dragon because the dragon doesn’t know the song. And Carry On does something that I don’t think Harry Potter even quite manged–it tells a really charming, compelling love story, which is really the heart of the book.

As I said, I read this on vacation and I almost wish I hadn’t because once I started all I wanted to do was keeping reading. On multiple occasions I chose to read this rather than pay attention to what was around me, even though what was around me was France. (I liked the book so much, I actually feel okay about this.) This would be the perfect book for a long plane flight or rainy weekend, when you just want to immerse yourself in a new world and ignore everything around you.

Also, I want to note that you don’t have to have read Fangirl to follow Carry On. This book is completely free standing and independent of Fangirl and (I think) is much better. Although I like Fangirl more now, knowing that it eventually led us to this.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review:
Suspenseful, magical romance

You might also like: I’m going to assume that everyone has read Harry Potter and that you’ve all been listening to me and reading Rainbow Rowell’s other books. With that in mind, I’m going to recommend John Green and David Levithan’s YA writing. They both have more famous books, but their collaboration on Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of my favorites and has a similar feeling to this. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is another solid recommendation featuring a clever magic world, although it’s a bit darker.

5 comments on “Carry On

  1. Anna says:

    Rebecca and I are on the waiting list for this from the library, but I was sort of middling on it, until I read this – now I’m really looking forward to reading it!

  2. Anna says:

    I’m about halfway through it now (having started it yesterday), and I don’t know what dark arts Rainbow Rowell is practicing but it felt exactly like diving back into a favorite series! It was almost immediately like the most comforting reading experience ever.

    • Kinsey says:

      Right? I feel like she made Carry On so much better than it had any right to be, and I have no idea how she did that.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I just finished this book and it was SO GOOD! I love it! Rowell takes all the standard fanfic tropes for a traditional Chosen One story and just does them so perfectly!

    • Kinsey says:

      I’m so glad you liked it! I hit a place, maybe a third into the book, when I realized that it wasn’t just entertaining but it was ACTUALLY REALLY GOOD. It’s like magic.

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