Book: Carry on by Rainbow Rowell
Genre(s): Fantasy, Alternative Reality
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: 2015
Hardcover: 528 pages
I hardly needed inspiration from the title. This book was one that I could not Stop carrying on reading, till I breathlessly reached the end, and looked up, blurry and bemused, wondering what all might have transpired around me for the 3 days it had me in its magical thrall. Did Rainbow Rowell cast a spell on me via the written word, as Baz or Penny might have through speech?
Lest I get too cloying with my enthusiasm, let me proceed in a different vein. This book, to me, was everything I wanted the later Harry Potter books (and Lev Grossman’s The Magician) to be but weren’t– a YA book that allowed the reader to fall into a magical yet real world with real complexities and problems, with shades of grey that were real but neither debilitatingly nihilistic (Lev Grossman) nor facilely annoying with its “chosen one” ideology (JK Rowling’s later Harry Potters). I am talking in generalities here because I don’t wish to write down spoilers, although this is a book wherein, if you have already read Fangirl by Rowell, there are inherent spoilers that are already in the back of your head. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of faults with this book too — the main one being the overly hit-you-on-your-head descriptive romantic and physical tension between the main characters. Another one being, why oh why does it seem to be fashionable for well-known white authors to write in an Indian (east) character into their book and call it a day in terms of diversity? Are we the flavor of the year? Did Aziz and Mindy make us cool and likeable? Does inserting Indians (who I would argue have much more inherent privilege than many other ethnic groups) satisfy that itch for color? I would really like to sit down with Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Stead, and E. Lockhart, all authors whose books I love, and yet make me want to tear out hairs from my head in frustration at times, to figure this out, and to give them some guidance: If they insist on writing Indian characters, please Do. The. Research. Like for example, Rebecca, don’t give an Indian family the uber-Gujarati (એકદમ સખડ Gujarati?) last name Patel, and then insist on having the parents follow the custom of Karva Chauth, which is Not a Gujarati Custom. And also, if you are going to gratuitously give a Hindu-observant family’s children French names, PLEASE explain why so your Gujarati Hindu readers don’t drive themselves cross-eyed wondering what was going through your mind. But I digress. And anyway, Rainbow was too smart for me, heading off my would-be criticism, by having Penelope (the Indian-British character in Carry on) herself dare Simon to challenge her on why she shouldn’t have an Indian name. BUT. I digress!
Regardless of my rant above, all in all, this is one book that I simply could not, for the life of me, put down. And lately, that’s saying a lot, as even with my favorite books, I seem to (of late) belie my own self-given nickname by being reluctant to pick them up and only too ready to lay them down for any and every distraction. All this blustering is to say, I think many people will enjoy this book. Who, you ask? Who exactly do I think will enjoy it? Well, I will lay it out for you in the next section of this post which is not so much a review as it is a stream of thoughts about this book, in (perhaps) an effort to exorcise its effects from my clouded brain, so that I can get on with my day and with my week. Here goes.
To whom will this appeal?~
Carry on will appeal to fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Robin McKinley’s Shadows, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It will also appeal to those looking for books with boy on boy sexual tension, for books written about magic and good and evil in a nondidactic white and black kind of way, for books about love between friends, between family, for books which have amazing vampire characters that don’t make you want to throw up. It will appeal to readers of the usual famously successful white authors of smart books for teens (John Green, Scott Westerfeld, E. Lockhart, David Levithan, etc). (Yeah, I wish it was not just white authors who got this kind of attention, but I’m just calling a spade a spade at the moment.)
Mostly, it is funny and insightful in a way that adults will enjoy, but it is definitely a YA book, with teen characters whom (I believe) teens will be able to identify with, and through whom teens will be able to enjoy vicarious magic and love.