I read Fan Girl a year or so ago and while it didn’t rock my world like Eleanor and Park, I enjoyed it and I remember finding the fan fiction that the main character wrote kind of interesting—in a Harry Potter meets . . . well, fan fiction kind of way. By the way, if you haven’t read Fan Girl, there are spoilers ahead about the two main characters so “carry on” at your own risk.
Rainbow Rowell found the dueling teen wizards that her character riffed on in Fan Girl so interesting that she decided to give Simon Snow and Baz the full-on book treatment. For me, the result was both fun and vaguely unsatisfying and I’m having a hard time figuring out why exactly. The nature of fan fiction (and I say this as someone who has read only a little of it) is that it builds off worlds that someone else has created and often spin the characters and plots off in alternative ways. This always makes me think of those episodes of Supernatural where Sam and Dean meet rabid fans of their fictional selves, fans who have been devouring alternative tales of Sam and Dean’s incestuous love for each other. But I digress. Though fan fiction is often a tribute to its source material, it can never quite break free of the original and this book has that feeling too.
So, this is basically Harry Potter’s “chosen one” scenario, with Simon Snow playing the role of Harry, melded with a romance novel, where Baz is the brooding and sarcastic hero who dares not reveal his feelings. There is the smart friend (a la Hermione), Penny, but also Agatha, Simon’s girlfriend of the last few years. Oh yeah and Baz is a vampire.
There is a lot to like here. Rowell does a nice job of throwing us into what is basically Book 4 or 5 of the series while also building up the back story of Watford, this Hogwarts-like school, and Simon’s past experiences there. It becomes clear that this isn’t exactly Hogwarts, and the Mage, the magician who brought Simon to the school many years ago, is definitely not Dumbledore. Simon’s relationship to his own magic is one of the most interesting things about this story. On the other hand, though there are mysteries to be solved and sacrifices to be made, ultimately the story felt like a vehicle for Simon and Baz to engage in a typical romance relationship dance—with lots of leaning in and pulling away. That’s not a bad thing but it felt like some of the most interesting stuff had already happened in an earlier book.
Though I enjoyed reading Carry On, I kept wondering how Rainbow Rowell might have been freed by fully creating her own “chosen one” scenario instead of riffing off of a riff off of Harry Potter.