by Rainbow Rowell
2015 • 522 pages • St. Martin’s Griffin
Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On may be the most anticipated deconstruction of Harry Potter since we all stumbled out of our midnight screenings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, feeling very strange indeed.
Of course, there have been other deconstructions. The Magicians, The Unwritten, and Mr. Toppit are all deconstructions of Harry Potter to a degree, but they’re at once more broad and more narrow than Carry On. They pull from a variety of other texts, like The Chronicles of Narnia and Winnie the Pooh—but they pull only from those texts. What Carry On does differently from those deconstructions and, in fact, any other deconstruction I’ve read is that it also pulls from the metatext that is the vastness of the Harry Potter fandom, the ur-gateway fandom for Millennials.
In her acknowledgments, Rowell states that Carry On is her take on a Chosen One narrative, but you’d have to be (unfathomably) unfamiliar with Harry Potter to read this and not think of the Boy Who Lived. And, of course, that’s rather the point. Carry On is a deceptively soft deconstruction of Harry Potter: while it lacks the sheer brutality of The Magicians, it’s more interested in picking at holes you may have not noticed in the original text to unearth and engage with the strange implications underneath than trying to shatter your childhood innocence in one blow.
(No, I’m still not over how The Magicians ended, if you haven’t noticed how I’ve not finished the trilogy.)
by Rainbow Rowell
2014 • 320 pages • St. Martin’s Press
When it comes to brass tacks, the difference between young adult and adult fiction is an issue of intended audience, not of genre. What gets them designated as young adult (and therefore placed into the hands of actual young adults) is what the literary gatekeepers of our society (publishers, booksellers, librarians, parents) think young adults want to read. Whenever I bring this up, I always point out that Malinda Lo’s graceful Ash, a queer retelling of Cinderella, was originally pitched as an adult novel but was published as a young adult novel. And, last fall, I shelved The Hobbit and Ender’s Game downstairs in young adult fiction and upstairs in speculative fiction at the bookstore. (I mean, we still do, but we don’t have an upstairs anymore.)
However, there’s no denying that there’s enough similarities in style, form, and content in the aggressive tidal wave of young adult fiction of the last two decades to make the argument that there is a genre being generated within that age range. The conflation of those two—the audience and the emerging genre, which has no handy moniker beyond “young adult fiction”—is the reason new adult fiction, despite differing from the emergent genre in that its characters are slightly older. I don’t think the genre is cohesive enough, but Rainbow Rowell’s novels are an argument for it as a cohesive, coherent genre that spans audiences.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Stumbling across Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl via cover artist’s Noelle Stevenson’s tumblr filled me with trepidation. It’s an instinctive response for any fan—we’ve spent so much of our history working in the shadows due to antagonistic relationships between creators and fandom that we can’t help but side-eye the modern tumblrina for tweeting Jeff Davis about Sterek. (Tumblrina: noun. Anyone on tumblr who makes me feel old.) But this wasn’t just about visibility. The copy for the book explains the protagonist’s status as a Big Name Fan and then asks, “Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”
Groan. As I’ve said before, writing original fiction is not the logical progression of writing fanfiction. They are different, although related, impulses. Ana shared my concerns, but she got to the book first. She assured me that this wasn’t a story about a girl growing up by leaving “childish” fandom behind, although there were a few spots that might trouble me, the woman who wrote her undergraduate thesis on fanfiction as the ultimate form of a particular school of literary criticism. Despite the assurances, I still approached Fangirl tentatively.