Check out guest contributor Kristy Elam’s reviews of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Carry On! Kristy is an avid reader, former English teacher, current tutor and book editor, and a life-long learner. She is married and the mother of two amazing boys. She loves Harry Potter, Stephen King, own voices stories, and dystopian novels.
I read Fangirl years ago, well before this blog, so I can’t give you a “first time” review. However, after reading this gem the second time, I can easily say I loved it even more. I was introduced to Rainbow Rowell’s books via an online book club, and I was skeptical. Her works sounded too cute for me. My first of hers was Eleanor & Park, which dealt with difficulties like bullying and a difficult family. I quickly realized there was more than “cute” to this books. My next book was Fangirl. And as much as I loved Eleanor & Park, Fangirl will always be my favorite of hers. I’ve read dozens of coming-of-age stories, but the main character in this one, Cath, really just captured my attention. She’s off to college, separated from her twin, Wren, and really struggling. Cath and Wren write fan fiction. But Wren has a new roommate and the divide between the twins is growing, much to Cath’s horror.
The fan fiction is about Simon Snow, a Harry Potter-like series that Cath and Wren are obsessed with. They post their story on a fan fic site and have tens of thousands of readers. Cath is struggling to keep up with the story, manage her relationship (or lack thereof) with Wren, attend classes, keep tabs on her manic dad, and avoiding the mother who abandoned them when they were young. In short, Cath is juggling a lot. She feels the weight of the world, she’s trying to do her best, anxiety is hitting hard. All of this is so familiar to me. Although I’m far removed from college, dealing with a lot while you have anxiety is entirely relatable.
Enter Levi. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, has a “friend” Levi. Friend, boyfriend, who really knows. But Levi quickly becomes a presence in Cath’s world, just because he’s always around. Cath begins to realize Levi isn’t going anywhere, so she opens up a bit and lets him in. Levi is simply one of the best male characters in YA these days. He’s honest, far from perfect, and kind. Basically, he’s real. He’s not some ridiculous unattainable perfect boy who mistreats girls who flock to him anyway.
I love this book. I flew through it in just a couple of days. Rowell does an excellent job capturing how life gets rough, but how leaning on others can get you through the rough spots. Representation matters and reading about another person with anxiety is such a comfort.
I get Cath. She is me.
Stick with me here. Because this can be a bit confusing. Carry On is fan fiction. The caveat is that the original work, the Simon Snow series, doesn’t actually exist.
We first meet Simon Snow in Fangirl. The main character of that book, Cath, writes about Simon Snow for a website. The SS series is almost complete, but before the last book is published, Cath is trying to crank out her version of the story. The real author of Fangirl and Carry On brilliantly creates the SS world in Fangirl, giving the readers a taste of the series (think Harry Potter but they are called mages rather than wizards). After that small taste, Carry On came out. We get the entire Cath version of what happens to Simon Snow. I promise it all makes sense. You can really read Carry On by itself without reading Fangirl, but both books are so delightful that they are worth your time.
As for the plot of Carry On, we meet Simon Snow as he returns to school. He’s an orphan, is the “chosen one,” has a female best friend, has a nemesis (Baz), and fights battles against creatures. All very familiar, right? The difference is that his nemesis is his roommate who is a secret vampire. I know, I know, vampires? again? As tired as I am of that particular creature, it’s only a portion of this book. We start the year with Simon, but Baz is missing. No one knows where he is or when he will be back. Since he’s Simon’s nemesis, he’s concerned Baz is off plotting against him. Of course Baz returns, keeping his disappearance a secret.
A huge reason Cath (the original writer in Fangirl) is so popular is that, in her story, Simon and Baz are gay. Baz is madly in love with Simon, but treats him so horribly, mostly because it’s easier that way, keeping Simon at bay. Simon has a girlfriend, but doesn’t really love her. And the moment Simon realizes that he is attracted to Baz is simply beautiful. Their love isn’t sweet and pure. It’s difficult and messy and real. Simon isn’t sure what he’s doing. Baz is struggling with his feelings becoming a reality. Even though these characters are set in a fictional world, their feelings are real and relatable. Being a teenager and falling in love is hard and confusing, especially for gay teens. In Fangirl, the love between a straight couple is portrayed so perfectly. You can’t help but root for them. It’s a bit messier in Carry On, but you root for them even more, hoping they overcome their combative nature, which has been the way for years, hoping they realize the combat is because they love each other.
The Carry On sequel, Wayward Son, came out yesterday. I’m itching to get my hands on it to see how Simon and Baz are doing. Their story isn’t perfect, but it’s genuine.