I don’t think I’ve read much YA fiction since my John Green binge last year, but after reading Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl as part of the Girl Gang Book Club, I had the itch to read more. So I picked up Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On and Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere at my trusty local library. I had heard a lot of positive things about both books on Goodreads and I was interested to see if my views were the same.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
In Fangirl, Cath is a fan of the Simon Snow books written by Gemma T. Leslie. She writes her own fanfiction of the series paring the title character romantically with the antagonist Baz. In Carry On, Rowell has pulled away from Cath and Gemma T. Leslie’s interpretation to create a version of the story that is entirely her own.
Simon and Baz are enemies but they also share a room. They are in their seventh year at Watford School for Magicians and have spent the previous six years trying to sabotage each other but bigger things are coming. A dark power known only as the Insidious Hundrum is gaining strength and threatens to destroy the entire world of magicians, and Simon and Baz form an unexpected truce which leads to even more surprising events.
Rowell has expressed her admiration of Harry Potter fanfiction, and I saw many parallels here. Simon is the orphaned hero who blunders through battles, surviving mostly from luck and the helps of his friends. Baz is a wizard from an old, elitist family hungry for power and position. They do mirror Harry and Draco, as the world of magicians mirrors the wizarding world but I think Rowell is playing on those tropes. She brings in some original details which I thought were great. Spells are determined by culture and language. The more popular a phrase or saying is, the more powerful the spell becomes. It made me think about the importance of words and how some sayings persist while others fade.
Carry On condenses an entire fantasy series into one book. There are pros and cons to that. Things often happen ‘off-screen’ – like the flippitigibit attack. Classroom interactions and school events would have strengthened the sense of place and the world Rowell created. I wanted to see more interaction between Simon and the Mage throughout the book. Their relationship is one of the most important ones in the book but I didn’t feel much of a connection between them. The Mage had alarm bells ringing in my head quite early on and I know Simon was blind to it all but I found it hard to buy from their interactions.
Like in Fangirl and Attachments, Rowell perfectly captures the atmosphere of the story. The British humour was perfect, and my favourite moments were in the back and for between Baz and Simon. Penny was such a great character. As Simon’s best friend she grounds him and is endlessly patient and supportive. I felt like she had a story in her own right rather than being just a side character. Agatha on the other hand baffled me. I couldn’t see why anyone liked her when she was consistently whiny and ungrateful. I know she wants a normal life but she takes it out on her friends and it’s that I had a problem with.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Lennon is a seventeen-year old girl who’s lost her sister without warning. As she struggles to come to terms with life without Bailey, she finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with the new student in school, Joe. Unfailingly happy and eager to bring Lennie out into the world, Joe could be the one to bring her out of the darkness, but another unexpected romance develops.
I’m not sure if it’s my age showing or my cynical disposition but I had a lot of issues with this The Sky Is Everywhere. The concept of losing someone so close and so suddenly, and the impact that has on a family dynamic was poignant and moving. You could feel the awkwardness and tension of Lennie, Grams and Uncle Big as they tried to navigate around the space Bailey had left. There was an uncertainty to their interactions that was heart-breaking, and Bailey’s presence lingered throughout the book. The setting of the town that still clung to its hippy commune past was unusual but fitting, particularly with the Walker family’s unconventional set-up and Grams’ liberal easy-going nature.
If this had been a story about three family members trying to help each other to overcome their grief then I think this would have been an incredible story. For me, the romance killed it. I wouldn’t have had as much of an issue if it had been a slow-burn, but Joe falls in love with Lennie without her giving him any reason to. She wasn’t a likable character and I couldn’t understand why everyone was giving her a free pass continually. When she does something that sabotages their relationship, instead of doing a grand gesture to prove herself she puts on a dress and heels, and her final grand gesture isn’t that grand. What angered me more was that in the end Joe apologises for being too hard on her when he had every right to.
Bailey’s boyfriend Toby felt like a character that was created just to instigate dramatic moments. The dynamic between Lennie and Toby, and how their relationship changed could have been really interesting because of their connection to Bailey but it felt off the mark.
Saying all that, there were some shining moments, particularly between the Walker trio.