Tournament of Books Round 2: Carry On vs. The Walls Around Us

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.” Thcarry one 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 (inwalls around us 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.


Reviewed by Becca Boland, Hinsdale Public Library


Tournament of Books Round 1: Carry On vs. The Girl at Midnight

It seems only right and proper to begin this pair of reviews by revealing that I am not generally a fantasy lover. On that note, I can say that venturing into the respective otherworlds of The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was surprisingly delightful.

Both stories were set on a present-day Earth with magical realms hiddengirl at midnight in plain sight. Both spent their plots following a chosen one protagonist as they navigated their destined path via alternating points of view. Both protagonists, Echo in The Girl at Midnight and Simon in Carry On, were born into normalcy, orphaned, and adopted by a sage authority figure (the Ala for Echo, and the Mage for Simon). Both have a prophesied mission to save themselves and their realms, both have to discover and harness their power and prove themselves worthy of their ultimate cause, and both have fierce friends and meet ferocious obstacles along their journey. Both stories feature romances of the heterosexual, homosexual, and inter-magical-beings variety.

The Girl at Midnight is Grey’s debut novel brings a young girl, Echo, who ran away from an abusive home life into the magical realm of the Avicen, a race of magical, feathered people who are at war with the Darkharin, a dragon race with magic of their own. In filching a music box for her adoptive mentor, the Ala, as a birthday gift, Echo sets off a domino effect wherein she must find a possibly mythical creature called the Firebird, the only thing that can end the war between the battling races. During this epic scavenger hunt, Echo’s sense of loyalty and belonging with the Avicen is put to the limits when she accidentally allies with the Darkharin prince, whose ultimate goal is the same as hers: everlasting peace. The door for a sequel is left wide open.

Carry On comes to us via Rowell’s previous YA work, Fangirl. In Fangirl, Cath, a college student, writes slash fanfiction for a fictional, Harry-Potter-inspired book series whose latest installment has yet to reach eager readers’ hands. “Carry On” is the title of Cath’s fanfiction, but Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is professed to be a different story entirely despite sharing a title. In this rendition of Carry On, despite being raised amongst the Normals, Simon has been prophesized to be the most powerful Mage in the world, the only onecarry on powerful enough to end the terror reign of the Insidious Humdrum. As the first Normal to enter the Watford School of Magicks, his presence isn’t always welcome especially by Old Families like his sworn enemy and roommate, Baz’s. However, circumstances bring the unlikely pair (as well as Simon’s friend Penny, and sort-of-girlfriend, Agatha) together to overcome the source of their magickal despair.

Remember in the beginning when I didn’t read fantasy? The Girl at Midnight presented the exact conundrum I have with the genre. While its present action sucked me in and did not let me go until the end, I was left with lingering questions about the magic, the history of the war, and many other tidbits that could have easily been made clear without sequels. While Carry On also left some magickal questions unanswered, the fact that it is the answer to a fictional fan fiction (and ostensibly the last installment in a series) based on a more widely known and much beloved (by me) fantasy left me feeling very at ease with many of the loose strings.

And so I see this round of the battle not as two fantasies with big similarities and bigger differences, but as a debut fantasy versus a veteran meta-commentary on fantasies. And, as the reader who does not easily take to fantasies, you may have already prophesied this round’s chosen one.


Reviewed by Brittany Staszak, St. Charles Public Library