Book Review

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I don’t know why I even bother reviewing Rainbow Rowell books. They always affect me the same way. The book is announced, I squee, I get the book, I jump around, I read the book, I cry lakes of tears. At this point Rowell could publish the phone book (remember phone books?) and my review would be, “This listing of names and numbers was so poignant, it really spoke to my soul, I cried a ton and then I had good book sigh.” I’ve gotten so Pavlovian about this that I’m considering starting a petition that every Rowell book come with a free package of Kleenex.

This being the case, it’s not going to shock you all that I was really excited about Carry On and while I didn’t burst out into loud sobs, I certainly got a bit sniffly and now I’m super depressed that the book is over because the end was so delightful that I didn’t want to stop reading.

This book is really, really heavy on teen angst. It is YA to the max. But Rainbow Rowell writes some damn fine YA and turns out that she also writes seriously amazing fantasy as well, so I personally have no complaints. Just know that this book is full of teenagers having Feelings and Angst.

And also fighting dragons. As one does.

Giant multi pack of Kleenex

In Rowell’s book Fangirl, which we raved about here, the main character, Cath, writes fanfic about a fictional series called Simon Snow, a series which has a marked resemblance to the real-life series Harry Potter (by real-life, I mean there is an actual published series called Harry Potter not that Harry Potter is non-fiction, although that hasn’t stopped me from looking for my Hogwarts letter).

One of the main questions of Fangirl was how Cath would end her fanfic – and we never found out.

Carry On finally tells us at least one version of what happens to Simon and his sexy but evil roommate Baz. While it certainly owes a great deal to Harry Potter (Chosen One goes to Magical School in England), Rowell does a great job of building her own world around some shared concepts. Unlike Harry Potter, the magicians in this school are just comfortable with cell phones as they are with wands, and while at first glance the characters seem like versions of Harry Potter characters, (Simon = Harry, Baz = Draco, Penny = Hermione), it only takes about a chapter to make it obvious that these characters are totally different within certain limits of trope. The plot is different, the rules are different. It’s clearly inspired by Harry Potter and other Chosen One stories, but it’s also clearly it’s own thing.

In the book, Simon has been told that he’s destined to be the Greatest Mage, but he can’t control his magic. The world is threatened by magical politics and by a being called the Humdrum. The Humdrum looks just like Simon did when Simon was 11, and the Humdrum sucks all the magic out of places – when a magician enters one of these spaces, they can’t access their magic.

Meanwhile Simon has roommate problems. He hates his roommate, Baz, and he’s sure Baz is a vampire and that Baz is plotting to kill him. Plus, he saw his girlfriend, Agatha, holding hands with Baz right before the start of summer vacation.

The story takes place during Baz and Simon’s last year at Watford, a school for magicians that is in England in more or less the present day. Baz and Simon are forced to call a truce and work together to find out who killed Baz’s mother and how to stop the Humdrum, with the enthusiastic help of Simon’s friend Penny and the reluctant help of Simon’s girlfriend Agatha, who is tired of being “the prize at the end.”

As I said earlier, this is a major teen angst book. If you are someone who thinks, “I hate YA because of all the teen angst,” then while I will certainly argue with you as to whether all YA books are the same, I probably won’t hand you this book right off the bat. This is also a romance – a super swoony, super sexy, surprisingly sweet romance with one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Plus it’s a ghost story, plus it’s a vampire story, and there’s magic all over the place and annoying relatives and gothic decor and plenty of humor. Rowell does great banter and all the major characters have some serious snark powers.

Anyone who read Fangirl knows who is having a romance with whom, but I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read Fangirl. Taken on it’s own, Carry On does a really nice job of building the romance and I want you to get to enjoy seeing it unfold. It also introduces the idea of a love triangle and immediately jettisons the idea, which is a huge relief because the love triangle trope is overused in YA.

I can tell you that the romance is snarky and sexy and sweet, and that it makes two messed up people better in unexpected ways. I also liked the break up (not a spoiler – it happens early in the book, but I’m not telling how long it lasts) between Simon and Agatha. Agatha realizes that Simon is with her because he pictures her as his happy ending – if he survives fighting the Humdrum, then one day he will marry Agatha and hang out with her family (Simon is, or assumes he is, an orphan) and they will live peaceful lives happily ever after. Agatha is a frustrating character because she just wants to avoid all this drama, unlike Penny who is committed to the fight against evil, but I admired her for trying to seek her own happy ending and not settling for a role as a supporting character in someone else’s story:

“You just want a happy ending.”

“Merlin, Agatha, don’t you?”

“No! I don’t! I want to be someone’s right now, Simon, not their happily ever after. I don’t want to be the prize at the end. The thing you get if you beat all the bosses.”


This book won’t please everyone. It’s first person, present tense, with teen angst by the ton. Even I got a little angsted-out periodically, which is why this book is a B+ and not an A. But it’s really good teen angst, and the fantasy aspect and the romance is perfection. It was so poignant, it really spoke to my soul, and I had good book sigh.

Also I really want a sequel with more dragons, because dragons are always awesome.

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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  1. Kim W says:

    This book was right up my alley. I loved Fan Girl and I read a ton of fan fiction but this was a DNF for me. I got it on audio and I got about 15-20% into it and it just wasn’t holding my attention. I was so disappointed because I was really looking forward to it. I’m so glad others like it because the idea is so original that I really want this book to succeed.

    This review has inspired me to try the book again. This time I’m going to get it from the library in ebook format.

  2. Megan M. says:

    This book was so tricky for me! I, too, adore Rainbow Rowell and pretty much swoon at everything she writes. I loved that she wrote this, because I loved the snippets of Simon Snow’s world/story that we got to see in Fangirl. I loved Carry On – there was so much good about it – but I didn’t love it as much as I expected I would. When the Big Romantic Moment happened, it felt sort of off (and I had the same feeling about the very similar Big Romantic Moment in Attachments, her debut.) And when the story ended I still felt just so incredibly sad for Simon. I thought about it for days. I have to say that I enjoyed what happened with Agatha the most, and I really wasn’t expecting that when I started reading!

  3. Lindsay says:

    I have to go against the grain here and say I have considered requesting a review of Carry On and was SO happy to see this today, but I LOVED IT! A+ style loved it! (@Kim W, keep going! I listened to a sample of the audio and didn’t love the narrator, plus the beginning is slightly slow, but halfway through it really picks up)

    I also have to respectfully disagree with Carrie about the angst level, I didn’t find the book overly angsty. I generally hate angsty books, and while the story is melodramatic at times it’s in service to the sly wink of its fanfiction origins and a stylistic choice to serve the trope and the teenage characters.

    I thought the worldbuilding was topnotch, you feel like you have spent 8 books with these characters and the way Rowell’s “World of Mages” operates feels natural and fun. It has great dialogue and she uses alternating first person POVs to really good effect. (Think Eleanor & Park but with more characters.)

    Maybe it’s because I super relate to the Fangirl characters (I’m a twin and my twin was obsessed with Harry/Draco in high school, so this book was basically written for me) or maybe you have to have a love for Harry Potter and/or Harry Potter fanfic to truly appreciate the way this book subverts those stories even as it pays homage to them, but I fit the bill and if you are anywhere near that spectrum you will love this book too.

    I have a few quibbles, there are a few continuity problems and the book ends with some important questions unanswered but overall if you have enjoyed Rowell’s past work, love Harry Potter, have been waiting for a sweet and snarky m/m book for younger people, or just like a good YA story check this book out. (then talk to me on twitter @lindsayraemyers)

  4. Lindsay says:

    Also here’s the review that alerted me to Carry On and made me want to read it –>

    p.s. several people have asked if you have to have read “Fangirl” to read “Carry On” and the answer is no! I read Carry On first and then wanted to read Fangirl, and actually I suggest reading in that order. It makes you appreciate the snippets in Fangirl more.

  5. Jennifer O. says:

    Interesting. I was disappointed when I heard what the new Rainbow Rowell book was going to be about. I loved Fangirl but didn’t feel like I needed to read anymore about Simon and Baz than I had gotten there through Cath’s fanfiction. I might read this eventually but not running out to get it. Obviously not the way a whole lot of other people feel!

  6. Rikki says:

    I do not know if I should read this. On one hand, I was like, “She wrote an actual book about her character’s fanfic? Score!” On the other hand…those excerpts from Fangirl were my least favorite bits (though I do love that book). And on another hand, I read a lot of Harry Potter fanfic. I mean a lot. And I cackled at some of the tropes I recognized from that. So I might pick this one up.

  7. Megan M. says:

    @Rikki – As Rowell says, in Fangirl she wrote about Simon Snow as Cath and she wrote about Simon Snow as “Gemma T. Leslie.” Carry On is Rainbow Rowell telling the story. So you may enjoy this version even if you didn’t like the excerpts in Fangirl. Definitely try a sample if you can! 🙂

  8. Jess says:

    I listened to the audiobook and the narrator is A+. There are moments, especially when he’s doing the Baz bits, that he sounds like Tom Hiddleston. Which cause may cause traffic-swooning.

  9. Rose says:

    First of all, if I were in college today, I’d be Cath. Having said that, I loved Carry On. . I’m afraid when I found out Rainbow was writing it, I definitely squeed loudly, and when I finally had it in my hot little hands, I devoured it, then listened to the audio.

    It was everything I had hoped, along with the sweet/tender/surprisingly sexy love story, the magical background, the Chosen One trope, and humor.

    Now I want a sequel to let me know how the characters fare in the future. I’m sure Penelope will have a brilliant career of some kind, that Agatha will end up in Hollywood on the big screen, and Baz will have to become some sort of heartthrob or a professor of literature. Simon? I haven’t a clue. But I would love to know.

    Rowell’s gift is creating characters that you become protective of, who are so human and real, that you expect to meet them on the street, that you want to be your best friend. And that you will always love.

  10. Zoe Hunter says:

    Rainbow Rowell’s books are definitely swoon-worthy. It is killing me to stop fangirling and write my comment like a normal person.

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