This was a really interesting bracket for me. I knew nothing about The Walls Around Us except that I had purchased it for my collection. The cover didn’t really give me any further insight. I decided that I was going to go into it without reading the last bracket or any reviews so I had no preconceived notions about what the book was or should be. I did know Carry On. I had read and loved Fangirl and I knew that Carry On was an extension of the fanfiction in that novel. I have had a lot of people ask me if I had read Carry On knowing my love of Rowell and Fangirl. The answer was, “no.” The fanfic was my least favorite part of the novel. The stuff I had to skim over to get to the story. I had no desire to read 500 pages of that. Then I received my reading assignments . . .
I don’t feel like I can talk about Carry On without mentioning Harry Potter. While I am aware that it is a different story with a different ending, it is clear that Rowell wanted to acknowledge one of the largest fandoms in the world without making direct references (or having to worry about copyright issues) in Fangirl. Simon Snow is Harry Potter. Baz is Draco Malfoy. The first 200 pages of Carry On brings the reader up to speed on what has happened in the past however many books leading up to it. I would repeatedly text the people who had read the story and told me they loved it and ask, “Is this going to get better? Because I want to punch someone or something.” It did get better. After the 200+ pages of backstory and once the second of the two main characters actually shows up, it greatly improves. There is a lot of action. It stops feeling like masked Harry Potter fanfiction and becomes its own story. It’s is action/adventure love story. The ending is a definite twist. Penelope is (of course) a poor man’s Hermione but I’m a sucker for a strong, smart girl who has zero *cares* to give the patriarchy. Agatha made me upset. I think she is supposed to be the Ron-like character but she is weak and whiny. While I didn’t HATE this novel, I didn’t love it either. I know that Rainbow Rowell felt like Simon Snow had a story that she needed to get out of her head and I know a lot of people are happy that she did. If this was the SAT, the correct answer would be: Carry On is to Harry Potter as 50 Shades of Grey is to Twilight. (But, you know, better written.)
On the other hand (in the other bracket?), The Walls Around Us had me from page one. People are calling this novel “Orange is the New Black Swan” which I think is a pretty apt comparison. It is the story of a ballerina, a juvenile detention center and dealing with major traumatic life experiences. The way that Suma weaves all of the character’s stories together is brilliant. She foreshadows events to come in such a way that you just want to keep reading. Once I was halfway through this novel, I was committed. I read until the end. I couldn’t put it down. I was pretty sure that I had figured out the “twist” and I was correct. Then it turned out to not even be the twist. How’s that for brilliant writing? It is unlike anything that I’ve read before. It is beautiful and haunting. It even touches on bullying without being preachy or sounding like a PSA. If you like contemporary fiction with a touch of mystery and a haunting of ghosts, this is the book for you.
For me, the clear winner is The Walls Around Us. Poor, Rainbow Rowell. She always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the YASF Tournament of Books. The one person who didn’t like her novel gets it in their bracket and she gets knocked out.
WINNER: THE WALLS AROUND US BY NOVA REN SUMA
Reviewed by Becca Boland, Hinsdale Public Library