Are There Lesbians? Yes
Expanding the world she began to explore in Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On at first seems reminiscent of Harry Potter but by the end has removed itself entirely from the series it was originally based on. The novel follows Simon Snow as he enters his last year, only to find that his evil vampire roommate and sometimes nemesis Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Pitch has not bothered to turn up. At first convinced this is part of yet another of his roommate’s evil schemes, Simon obsessively begins to try and track Baz down. With an actual arch nemesis in The Insidious Humdrum haunting Simon’s every step, and ghosts haunting his every other step, Simon must find time to work out what the hell is going on in his personal life. But it’s not all that easy when the entire wizarding world is convinced you’re The Chosen One.
The lesbians in Carry On are generally fringe characters – one mentioned in passing and the other serving as a constant source of irritation for Simon’s best friend Penelope. I feel that perhaps this can be forgiven however as the novel does have a gay couple at its centre. It’s also nice for the lesbian characters to not have their sexuality as their defining trait but rather their actual personalities and real-world qualities. I have just realised exactly how low I set the bar for representation and it’s a little disheartening.
On the plus side, Carry On is a funny, touching book, a thoroughly enjoyable read that had me unable to put it down. If there was one problem it was that it’s written in first person and the POV changes from chapter to chapter which got confusing when I wasn’t paying attention as each individual has a very different head spaces.
Apart from that little hiccough however, I don’t have anything bad to say – Rainbow Rowell has developed her own, deeply fascinating, wizarding world with a rich, embedded history that addresses issues of language and elitism alike. I can very easily say that I would read anything else set within this world in a heartbeat – of course Simon Snow prequels and sequels alike would be very welcome but I always like exploring expanded universes (see my obsession with Finishing School and the Parasol Protectorate) and would love to see more of Watford as an early wizarding school – perhaps fanfiction is in order?
As a staunch Pothead, my primary fear for Carry On was that it would be too similar to HP – after all, in Fangirl the Simon Snow books take the place of HP. After a few initial pangs however, it’s easy to forget a certain other wizarding school and become immersed in Rowell’s own Watford. I love her magic mythology where words become more powerful with the saying, particularly in certain combinations, thus common sayings for Normals become magic phrases for wizards, with some interesting clauses.
Me being me, my favourite characters were Baz and his Aunt Fiona, who The GF found vaguely annoying but who I almost immediately decided was not only kickass but also a splendid and worthwhile role model (if anyone is wondering what Hogwarts house I’m in, this should give you a strong hint.) Simon Snow is a perfect, delightfully oblivious hero much too concerned with saving the world to freak out over any developing feelings for his male frenemy, something which I found myself identifying with an absurd amount – sure I’ve never had to save the world but sometimes uni assignments are enough to provide distraction from meltdowns over sexuality revelations… turned out I was more than a really good ally.
Carry On not only provides you with strong shipping feels but resolves them admirably – starting off as fanfiction in Fangirl means it has some of those tropes we all know and love, including my personal favourite – pining and wallowing in angst from a distance with a hint of self-deprecation thrown in. Not unlike the novels main character, Carry On manages to escape it’s faux-fanfiction birth to become something of a great hero in its own right, one that you will certainly be waxing lyrical about to the point of irritating friends who haven’t read it.