She Giveth, and Then She Giveth Some More: Rainbow Rowell and her Wayward Son(s)

All it takes is a two-minute conversation, or a quick peek at my Staff Picks, to know that I am approximately 1000% madly in love with Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. It is one of my all-time favorite books, one of those that after I've finished reading, I usually turn around and read again, just because. I've wailed about my adoration of that book in a blog post before, but here's a quick recap of my thoughts and feelings in case you haven't read that post:





Hello. Welcome back, dear reader. Did you enjoy reading Carry On? Yes? Of course you did, for, truly, it is a perfect creation. So you can imagine my absolute delight when Rainbow Rowell announced Wayward Sonthe long-awaited surprise sequel to Carry On, which further explores Simon Snow and his role as "The Chosen One" in his fantastical, words-are-literally-magic universe. And furthering my intense loyalty to these gorgeous, gorgeous books, after Wayward Son was gifted to the masses, Rowell also confirmed there will be a THIRD BOOK, entitled Any Way the Wind Blows

I've already talked about Carry On, and knowing me, I'll eventually cry about Any Way the Wind Blows when it is published, but today I'll be discussing one of my new favorite books, Wayward Son.

First, a caveat: Wayward Son is NOT Carry On.

Repeat after me: Wayward Son is NOT Carry On.

If you approach the reading experience of Wayward Son expecting it will be exactly like Carry On - which is a fluffy, gooey masterpiece, like eating the best s'mores you've ever had, roasted over a bonfire, surrounded by everyone you know and love best - then, I'm afraid, you might be a little disappointed. Though (minor spoiler alert) Wayward Son does involve a beautiful, heartfelt scene involving fireflies, which is appropriate for the metaphor I just laid down a sentence before. 

But overall, the major theme of Wayward Son is one of exploration: exploring the American West, exploring self-identity, exploring preconceived notions these character hold about the world, exploring what it is like to be a human living with a mental illness. It's a much more thoughtful, and sometimes heart-wrenching beast. 

But, oh my goodness, do I love it with my whole heart. I remember at one point, reading the book for the first time - I'm reading the book for the third time since it was released, but this time on audiobook which I highly, highly recommend - I looked over at my partner and said, "I might love this more than Carry On." I'm no longer as heavily in my feels about those glorious and awful boys - Simon Snow and Baz Pitch, enemies turned friends turned boyfriends - so I can now say that no, Carry On is still the reigning champion of my heart and soul. But here is why I briefly thought Wayward Son might be better:

  1. This book is a buddy road trip. Our intrepid British explorers, Simon and Baz and Penny, hit the road to visit their old pal, Agatha, living in the United States. Of course, along the way, they get into some trouble, because who would these characters be if they didn't have adventures along the way? In Wayward Son, Rowell encapsulates the beauty that is our flawed country, without shying away from pointing out some harsh truths about the United States. There are long, poetic scenes about the open spaces and blue skies of the Midwest, and stunning scenes involving driving through the desert at night that will make you fall in love with SImon and Baz all over again. But she also isn't afraid to talk about the The Big Issues, like the prevalence of gun culture in this country.
  2. This book is about getting lost. So many narratives focus on finding, and I think Rainbow Rowell perfectly captured what it feels like to be in your early twenties - no longer a child, but not yet a fully actualized adult. When you're feeling lost and hopeless and you have to address yourself and how you fit in the world. This, of course, makes for a somewhat painful reading experience when characters you know and love from a different book might behave differently, but it's because they are learning. They're figuring it out. And Rowell gave them the space to do that. Quite literally gave them the space, as most of this book takes place on the open road.
  3. This book has some of the coolest magic I've ever seen. The magic system first introduced in Carry On beats the reader on the head with metaphor - WORDS ARE IMPORTANT, WORDS ARE MAGIC. Magicians in this universe use widely known vernacular or song titles or other pop cultures references for actual spell-casting, which makes my nerdy, literature-loving heart soar. But in Wayward Son, Rowell expands on this system, which discusses the importance of local vernacular within communities. What is deemed magic in one location, might not be magic in another location, as our characters unfortunately discover, because not all countries or cities or communities share the same vernacular. Words are powerful, but they can also be alienating. 
  4. This book is the best depression representation I've found. Simon Snow is depressed. Baz is in love with someone who is depressed. Penny is best friends with someone who is depressed. Simon's depression, and how those who love him interact with him while he is depressed, is a large part of the novel. Which makes for several gut-wrenching scenes, but it also makes for some magical non-magical moments, like when Simon bravely goes out and gets a haircut. Alone. As someone who also openly talks about their mental health on a regular basis, seeing that representation, seeing the reality of what it is like to deal with depression, it was brutal and painful and so, so important. This book explores the aftermath of trauma, and how that might change a person's outlook, even if at one point they were The Greatest Mage of them all. 

Don't expect another Carry On - that's not what this book is.

Wayward Son lives in the in between, with a promise of more to come.

Because at the end of the day, your story isn't over, Simon Snow. You've only just begun.