[BOOK REVIEW] Simon Snow series provides escape and representation

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Mimi Huelster

Known for her successful young adults novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, as well as her adult work Attachments and Landline, Rowell has now carried her vibrant style of writing over into her next literary escapade with the creation of the Simon Snow series.

Rainbow Rowell has done it again.

Known for her successful young adults novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, as well as her adult work Attachments and Landline, Rowell has now carried her vibrant style of writing over into her next literary escapade with the creation of the Simon Snow series, including Carry On and Wayward Son.

While Carry On and Wayward Son make up a standalone series, their stories are part of a much larger world of Rowell’s creation. Fangirl, Rowell’s third novel, centers around a college freshman with a passion for writing fanfiction, specifically about two fictional characters: Simon Snow and Baz Grimm-Pitch. After the widespread positive reception of Fangirl, Rowell released Carry On to her growing fanbase, elaborating on the stories of Simon and Baz. Four years later, Wayward Son, the second installment of the series, was published.

At first glance, Carry On appears to be just another book in the paper tsunami of Harry Potter rip-offs: the protagonist, Simon Snow, is a gawky — yet at times suspiciously composed — teenage boy who has been catapulted into a world of magic he originally knew nothing about, tasked to save it from an omnipotent dark force, a sort of magical black hole called the Insidious Humdrum. One of his closest friends, Penny, is a know-it-all teenage girl who is constantly saving him from his own stupidity, and he is sworn enemies, as well as roommates, with another boy, Baz, who is somehow involved with dark magic. Yet, as the story continues, Carry On begins to stray from the path J.K. Rowling set in stone for fantasy writers. While Carry On does not shy away from serious, tender, or even solemn moments, Rowell’s playfulness in her writing shines brightly throughout the novel, bringing joy and laughter, as well as tears and contemplation, around every twist and turn.

In a world where gay romance and representation is scarce in YA ficiton and fantasy, much less the two combined, the addition of queer characters’ personal development and relationship is not only exciting, but needed.”

In Wayward Son, the second and latest installment of the series, the fun and at times predictable tone of Carry On is replaced with a deeper, more down-to-earth feel, even while maintaining a youthful tone, giving the reader a warm sense of nostalgia. Following the events of the previous book, Simon is clearly depressed, while Penny is — albeit a bit delusionally — enthusiastic about the future, and Baz is just trying to keep up. In a spur of the moment move, Penny convinces them all to come with her on a roadtrip across America. Along the way, the trio must deal with a variety of dilemmas, both personal, such as Simon and Baz’s newly rocky relationship, and general, a cult of vampires.

While the Simon Snow series does stay comfortably close to the roadmap of the finale of Harry Potter — especially in Carry On, where, spoiler alert, good triumphs over looming evil — the “Chosen-One”’s love life takes a sharp turn into queerness, evident in the almost immediate break-up of Simon and his girlfriend, Agatha, in Carry On, and the developing enemies-to-lovers dynamic of Simon and Baz over the course of the two novels. 

In a world where gay romance and representation is scarce in YA fiction and fantasy, much less the two combined, the addition of Simon and Baz’s personal character development and relationship is not only exciting, but needed. Additionally, the fact that the queer relationship is between two of the main characters, and therefore brought front and center throughout the book, is a major leap from authors who use queer characters and dynamics solely to diversify their monotonous set of personas. 

Not only does Wayward Son deal with and expand on the views and developments of the characters and their relationships, but it also expands their world. Their lives are different in America; magic is different in America. Who would’ve thought the Rocky Mountains are actually just a group of comatose dragons? They also experience and observe the political and social dynamics of magical people and creatures in the United States, at some times reflective of the sociopolitical climate today. That said, Rowell attempts to still maintain a sense of wonder and unreachability of her magical world by avoiding the muddiness of politics, which can be useful, but would have meant the downfall of the series.

Although Carry On and Wayward Son live in their own fantasy world, full of spells and vampires, dragons and numpties, they provide a reflection and an escape, as well as representation for the lives many young adults lead.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Carry On and Wayward Son are written by Rainbow Rowell. The third book in the series, Any Way the Wind Blows, has been announced to be released at the end of 2020.