I just finished reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. And I have some things to say about it that are gonna read as kinda critical, but let me get this part out first.
I love Rowell’s work. She’s taken Runaways, already one of my favorite comics, and made it so much better than I could have imagined. Fangirl was one of my top 3 books I read last year. And I loved Carry On.
But part of what pushed it to the front of my reading list was being told that it sucks at bi representation. I wanted to see for myself and form my own opinions. So that had a big effect on how I read it, and…yeah. It’s not great, in that regard. So let’s talk Representation. And Responsibility.
While I argue with myself.
But. It’s about gay wizards! Of course it’s queer-friendly!
Between this and Runaways, I don’t doubt Rainbow Rowell is generally supportive of the queer community, including bisexuals. I don’t see this as intentional erasure, more just…maybe not considering the implications?
Fangirl centers on a cishet female slashfic writer, and Carry On is basically slashfic that could occur in that universe. Also written by a female writer. And while I have read a lot of slash and know that it’s not inherently exploitative or fetishizing, it absolutely can be and has been criticized for that.
Carry On centers on cis gay boys. (Well, possibly one bisexual boy, but that word is never once used in the book and the character in question first doesn’t think about it and then says basically “well I’m still dating a boy so I guess I am gay!”) As written by a woman. The only other queer characters in it are a lesbian couple never seen on screen and who we only know because one of them is the roommate of a major character, who frequently complains about them spending time together and making out.
I know, I know Penny’s not actually complaining about it because they’re queer women as if that’s the part that’s gross. I know. I get it, it sucks having your room taken over by a very amorous couple. I sympathize.
But it winds up meaning that we’re here to see boys kiss and the only other queerness represented is only ever seen as a gross invasion.
And considering how much of LGBTAQ+ representation is already cis white gay boys, maybe…we could see something else? Not, like, instead of SnowBaz, just…alongside them. Even as minor characters, maybe minor characters with actual lines? Characters who are liked and not just mocked?
Sigh. Moving on.
Ok but does everyone need to label themselves? Maybe that’s just who Simon is and that’s ok. Shouldn’t that lack of knowing also be represented?
Actually, yes. I agree with that, to an extent. (I should, it’s my argument.)
Simon doesn’t call himself bisexual because he hasn’t thought about it because he avoids thinking about hard things. That’s established, that’s a major part of his character, and labeling his sexuality is not even on the top ten list of things he has to worry about right at this moment, as he and his psychologist discuss near the end.
I’m cool with that. Simon may be bisexual, he may not, and either way he’s not required to label it.
And not every story has to represent everyone. Cool.
If you’re going to so heavily center a character who has dated a girl for years and talks about wanting her and then dates a boy and who is questioning his sexuality…maybe think about how often potentially-bisexual characters are portrayed in popular fiction while the creators refuse to label them as such. Think about the fact that biphobia and a serious lack of representation are major things that might matter to a lot of people who are going to be interested in this book and that particular aspect of it. Let them actually see themselves represented. If not Simon, have another character, if only a background character, at least using the word, even just once, in a positive way. Acknowledge it as a possibility. Have Simon (or another character) idly wondering about it instead of just assuming gay or straight.
Ok, pause. Deep breaths.
Whew. Much better.
Um. So. You said you *liked* this book, right?
I did! I really did! I want to read more! I can’t wait for the sequel. I have so many things I want to talk about that I loved in it. And I’ll do that next.
I just. I really needed to get this out. And I hope really hard that these things are improved for next time. Please.
And seriously, I don’t think it was intentional or malicious. It’s just a little frustrating to see this sort of thing repeated all the time.
Especially when it’s done by the people I’m pretty sure are our allies, who are generally on our side but just maybe not really thinking through the way it looks in the context of the wider culture.
Like, if they don’t see it, what hope do I have for everyone else?
Wow, that’s depressing. Happy thoughts now?
Yes, happy thoughts now!
Agatha is fantastic. I love so much about her. Such a strong, funny, grounded voice in a book that just doesn’t have a lot of that. And I’m so proud of her for finding her own path and becoming the lead in her own story instead of just being a part of someone else’s. Way to go, Agatha!
Baaaaaaaaaz. I love Baz so much. Of course I do, I love every character who plays this part in any story. But still, he’s very well done and absolutely earns my affection, I’m not just a fan because he’s the dark broody semi-villainous one. I would like to see much more of him. It makes me kind of sad that we don’t have the whole series that came before this story in the Fangirl universe. They seem like good reads.
If Rowell ever runs out of ideas maybe she can release those the way Rowling eventually put out books that exist in the Harry Potter universe. I would read the heck out of those.
The pacing is great. The author did a whole thread on Twitter about what it means to her to have an original work that reads like fanfic. That it’s not forcing itself to always advance the plot, you can have chapters of feelings or whatever. And this does that so well and I love it. It does read like fanfic and reminded me of all the reasons I love fanfic and why sometimes “real books” just don’t cut it and aren’t what I’m looking for. This exploration on characters and feelings and relationships is so good and made me so happy.
And when the plot does kick in, it’s good too. Suspenseful and action-packed, clear in the foreshadowing/setup but also managed to pack in a few surprises. The ending was completely unexpected for me and hit me hard. I’m so upset by it but in a really good way. It’s hard to say more than that without getting very spoilery, so I’ll leave it there. But it’s good.
Favorite Quotes! (Mild spoilers, makeouts, and swearing)
“Once, he went off while protecting Agatha and me from a clan of worsegers – like badgers, but worse.”
“Even some of our cookbooks are banned. (Though it’s been centuries, at least, since the Pitches ate fairies.) (You can’t even find fairies anymore.) (And it isn’t because we ate them all.)”
– Note: Another thing I really liked here was the use of multiple parentheticals in a row like that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it anywhere else, and it’s so clever and interesting and just reads so well, like I can hear it in my head in a way that wouldn’t work as well without it. Does that make any sense, or is it just a weird me thing? –
Snow kissed me last night until my mouth was sore. He kissed me so much I was worried I’d Turn him with all my saliva. He held himself up on all fours above me and made me reach up for his mouth – and I did. I would again. I’d cross every line for him.
I’m in love with him.
And he likes this better than fighting.
“We can’t compel him,” I say, “and he’s not gonna tell us anything.”
“Maybe you guys didn’t ask nicely enough,” she says, waggling her eyebrows.
“Corking idea, Penelope,” Baz says. We’ll have you seduce him.”
“No,” I say.
“I was thinking Agatha…,” Penny says.
“I’m not even here,” Agatha says. “When you’re all put on trial before the Coven, I wasn’t here.”
“What you are is a fucking tragedy, Simon Snow. You literally couldn’t be a bigger mess.”
He tries to kiss me, but I hold back – “And you like that?”
“I love it,” he says.
“Because we match.”
“There are books everywhere, in stacks and lying open. There are pages ripped out and taped all over one wall. (Not taped – stuck to the wall with spells.) (And this is exactly the sort of thing I’m sick of. Like, just use some tape. Why come up with a spell for sticking paper to the wall? Tape. Exists.)”
TBH, despite all the problems mentioned above, I just…liked it. I finished it in a few days because I just couldn’t stop reading. I read it while I was hanging out with friends playing games. I stayed up late and didn’t get enough sleep on a work night. I had fun with it and as I got closer to the end I struggled with that “I want to keep reading but if I do it’ll be over and then what!?” feeling.
The problems I have with it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t love it. But since I do, I want it to be the best it possibly can. I want to be able to recommend it, whole-heartedly with no reservations, to absolutely everyone I know who might be into it.
But a lot of those people are also bisexual (or, like me, have some other identity that’s constantly erased and so are sensitive to it) and might be hurt by it. *shrug* I figure, at the very least, it’s worth knowing and addressing.
Overall, though…it’s good and I liked it and if you think you would too, keep the above in mind, but give it a shot. I hope you have as much fun with it as I did.