Rainbow Rowell is one of the most acclaimed authors in young adult fiction right now (in 2013 her books Eleanor & Park and Fangirl were both named on the New York Times as some of the year's best in young adult fiction), so it might be a little redundant to recommend book Carry on as well, but I can’t help myself for a couple of reasons. One, I absolutely loved it. And two, I realized that I’ve talked about this book with at least four people since I’ve read it (including ELPL Librarian Annie!), mostly to rave about it, and also to explain the premise of it. I figured if I’m spending that much time talking about it, it deserves a recommendation!
And also, a little bit of clarification. Carry On is different from Rowell’s other books in that it isn’t realistic fiction – it’s fantasy. But it’s fantasy with a twist. In Fangirl, the main character Cath struggles to find her place during her first year away at college, and she takes refuge in a fictionalized version of the Harry Potter series, writing fanfiction about the prodigious young wizard Simon Snow and his escapades at a magical British boarding school. Carry On is the story of Simon’s seventh and final year at the magical school Watford. It definitely has shades of Harry Potter – which makes sense, given that it’s supposed to be a take on those stories in the first place – but also has its own unique spirit and sense of magic.
While Rowell has said that Carry On isn’t meant to necessarily be one of Cath’s stories or one of the “books” from the series, it can be read as either one. The book is a standalone, and starts at the beginning of Simon’s seventh year at Watford, but Rowell skillfully gives just enough background information throughout the story that we know exactly what might have gone on during those first six years as well. The story itself is funny, wry, suspenseful, and immersive, and both mega-fans of Harry Potter as well as newbies will find something to connect with in Simon’s world.
You don’t need to read Fangirl to appreciate Carry On, but they’re both outstandingly well written, so if you have the time, I say read both. Plus, the experience of seeing how much Simon and company mean to Cath in Fangirl makes the emotional resonance as you read their adventures first hand that much stronger.