Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: my favourite books

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is a book I had to buy as soon as I heard about it. Having read Fangirl, which was my inspiration for studying creative writing at university, I was invested in the outcome of Baz and Simon’s final year at school.

I love that this book came about not as a way to write what Cath, the protagonist of Fangirl, imagined the end of Simon and Baz’s story to be, nor as what the fictional author of original story writes after the events of Fangirl. Instead, Rowell has stated that she was intrigued by these characters and their stories, and that’s what compelled her to write Carry On. And this shines through in her writing, which I found difficult to stop reading.

Carry On was Rowell’s first foray into fantasy writing, and in a sense, it shows. The scenario and characters seem somewhat derivitave of the Harry Potter series, but when read in the context of Fangirl, this makes sense. Books that reference popular culture soon become outdated, (and although I don’t know for sure I would imagine come with all sorts of copyright issues), so by creating a fake series within the world of Fangirl, the idea of the world is recognisable to a contemporary audience, but the book is not as dated as it would otherwise be. There are clear differences that do set Rowell’s work aside from Harry Potter, but these largely feature as the narrative develops, in the characters’ motivations and the plot twists.

One key area in which Carry On differs from the Harry Potter series quite obviously is in the LGBTQ+ representation. Baz identifies as queer from the first chapter, and Simon finds himself having feelings towards Baz the more time he spends with him. Simon and Baz’s same sex attraction is explored well, and it is not their entire identities. Spoiler alert, but they also have a happy ending, which is delightfully refreshing. As critics such as Karen Coats and Robert Bittner have noted, Young Adult fiction is a source of relationship, sexuality, and sex education for young people who feel otherwise embarrassed to discuss their own experiences as queer and questioning young adults. Normalising the experiences of gay/bi guys through two very different characters, Simon and Baz, who happen to both be attracted to guys but define themselves and negotiate their own sexualities in different ways, is so helpful in negotiating this issue.

As a fantasy debut and what is essentially fanfiction, Carry On is a lovely and important story, and I can’t wait to read any other fantasy that Rainbow Rowell produces. I am currently enjoying the run of the comic book series Runaways that she is writing, with Kris Anka illustrating, and would recommend that for anyone who enjoyed Carry On.

 

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The furiosity of butterflies

there’s this feeling I can’t get rid of,

i can’t out run it,

can’t escape it

it shakes me to my core.

sometimes

i think it may have disappeared

i relax, breathe, enjoy

but it returns all too soon.

the clenching,

the writhing,

the fear,

tangling its way through my head

no matter how much I meditate

or run

or talk

or do anything that you would-be experts

seem to think I should do,

tell me to do,

it remains.

the only constant that I can be sure of.

it may leave me for a day,

at times, a week

but it will certainly

always

return.

Sympathy for the animal sidekick

A continuation of U A Fanthorpe’s poem ‘Not my best side’

It’s all very well, this

virgin saving, but I always end up questioning

what’s in it for me?

The girl gets saved, the dragon dies,

this guy on my back, wearing the entire armoury (not realising,

had the dragon breathed fire,

as is traditional dragon behaviour,

he would have been cooked alive

like a jacket potato in tin foil)

gets the girl and the fame,

and all I get is a scratch under the chin,

a carrot, and another painting to add

to my slowly growing collection

in the stables. Hardly seems fair

when without me, he wouldn’t have

got anywhere in the first place,

especially on those matchstick legs.

 

https://i2.wp.com/english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/uccello.jpg

Blizzard

Drifting crystals shimmer under street-light,
boots pull through the grey white sand.
The hole, ignored in November,
leaves February’s toes unfeeling.
Red hot ice forms fingers in unravelling mittens,
wind attacks the hood, flake shards spiking behind plastic frames.
Time slows, quiets, before puddles form on doorsteps.

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman: My Favourite Books

The first time I remember hearing about Call Me By Your Name was when one of my friends was telling me about some of the controversy surrounding it on Twitter after the announcement that the book was being made into a film. Shortly after, the same friend read the book in an inordinately short amount of time, and was begging everyone she knew to read it. I put it off, despite being intent to read the book before the film came out (which I didn’t manage to do, but due to the film’s very limited release in the UK I wouldn’t have been able to go and see it in the cinema anyway), and finally got around to reading it in December of last year.

The novel follows Elio, a teenage boy at the novel’s start, and how his life is changed when Oliver comes to stay at his family home over the summer. It’s a coming-of-age romance story, heartbreaking and beautiful.

I loved this book from start to finish. Every single sentence seemed so well constructed, so carefully thought out, that I wanted to stop reading every five minutes so as to savour my experience of the reading this book for the first time for as long as possible. Aciman uses the first person perspective in such a way that reading the book feels like Elio is talking to you personally, not just telling a story to the world, but revealing himself intimately (both emotionally any physically…) to the reader. The ambiguity of the ending of the novel feels like the only ending that it could naturally have, leaving the reader to decide how Elio and Oliver’s relationship ends.

This book is beautifully evocative, and upon finishing it I wanted to read it over and over again until it was burned onto the back of my eyelids. If it has somehow passed you buy (even though the film has been nominated for so many awards this season), it’s my turn to beg you to read it, and experience this story first hand.

The Staircase

The edge of the carpet is fraying,

peeling up – it will soon be nothing.

it used to hold such fun,

bum slides down, crawls up

but now it only holds stains.

The house is no longer yours,

but the bannisters bear your fingerprints,

marks from a time when you were carried

on the shoulders of your father,

from back when your mother knew your name.

Boxes sit at the bottom of the staircase,

but you feel the need to sit here a while,

take it all in,

before you had this house over to new memory makers.

Installment in the Turbine Hall of the Tate

A single red ball

rolls to stop.

It sits alone for a while,

some people come and look at it

and slowly, it gains friends,

balls of all different colours joining it

piling up, spilling out,

each one filled with a secret to be learnt

only by inquisitive strangers,

secrets detached,

the weight released from their bearers,

left floating in the void.

A problem shared is a problem halved;

these secrets become millionths of the size

they used to embody to their bearers,

and minor curiosities for visitors.

 

Some of them come back to visit,

curious to see what the others have shared.

They never find their own secrets

and indeed, never remember them.

They are lost in a sea of regrets and things better left unsaid.

 

The balls are recycled, after it’s all over,

forming pens, bottles, all manner of things,

their secrets hidden forever.

 

The first red ball returns

to the pocket of its creator,

becoming a memento of when things so trivial

carried more significance.

Lycanthropuppy

Connie looked up at her two parents, trying to hear what they were muttering about. Normally, it wouldn’t bother her – she knew that adults often had conversations that kids like her weren’t supposed to be privy to – but the way they kept looking over at her had piqued her curiosity.

‘I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to keep her inside whenever there’s a full moon, Lisa!’

‘I just don’t think she’s ready-’

‘We can supervise her in the garden, that’s how my parents helped me my first time.’

‘Are we going to play in the garden?’ Connie started to bounce with excitement, thinking of the trampoline and how much more fun it would be to bounce in the dark than during the day.

Her mother sighed. ‘Yes, sweetie, we are. Shall we get some warm clothes on?’

Connie was more willing to cooperate than she ever had been. She took the stairs at a sprint and got changed within a record time. Her mother had picked out some of the dirtier clothes that Connie didn’t really like anymore for her to wear, but the prospect of playing outside after dark had left her too excited to complain.

When she came downstairs, Connie’s dad was already waiting by the back door. ‘You ready, sweetie?’

Connie nodded, her bunches swinging back and forth against her neck.

‘Remember, whatever you do, don’t fight it.’ Her dad’s words confused her, but she thought that, like most things that she didn’t understand, they would soon make sense.

Her mum’s hands pinched her shoulders as her dad opened the curtains, and then the door. The cold January air rushed in, and Connie rushed out of the door to meet it. She was halfway across the garden before she realised that her parents weren’t next to her. She turned around to try and find them, but they were nowhere to be found.

In their place stood two wolves that barely fitted through the door, their eyes kind and their fur thick across their back. Connie was mesmerised. The bigger one had eyes the colour of her mum’s eyes, the same bright blue as Connie’s, and its fur shone chestnut in the moonlight. The slightly smaller one had her dad’s hazel eyes, and its coat was a dark brown peppered with grey.

She heard her mother’s voice, although the wolf’s mouth didn’t move. Remember what your dad said, Connie, don’t fight it.

Fight what? was all Connie had a chance to think before she felt an odd pain in her arm. She looked down to see that it was warping and sprouting hair, and as she watched, the pain spread through her body, causing her to fall to all fours. She tried to scream for help, but her tongue lolled in her mouth, too big for the tiny space. She curled up where she had fallen on the ground and began to cry, the sound coming from her totally alien.

The pain stopped, and she opened her eyes and sat up. Everything was in a greyscale; she couldn’t see any of the fun colours of the plastic windmill or the trampoline. It was only then that she realised that she wasn’t even sitting up, she was leaning on her hands like a dog. She tried to lift up her arms in front of her face to look at them and couldn’t get them any further than parallel with the ground. She looked down and saw that they were covered with fur, claws and paws where her hands used to be. Connie began to panic.

I know it’s scary, sweetie, but don’t be scared, we’re here.

Her father’s voice in her head did nothing to stop her panicking, and she tried to stand up, wobbling on all fours. She tried to speak again and heard a yap. Her heart started racing as she stumbled across the garden. Everything was taller than she was, and she couldn’t see the wolves anymore.

Connie started to run, quickly adapting to the four legs rather than the two she was used to. She fell over the hose pipe, landing on her back and letting out a squeak.

Stop running, Connie, let us help you.

She could no longer remember who Connie was, or who the voice belonged to that was in her head. She wriggled her way back to standing, and made a break for the gap that she could see in the fence, finding that more appealing than anything that this garden had to offer.

Connie, no!

She felt a scratch against the back of her neck, but the hole in the fence seemed to be perfectly shaped for her, and she left whatever had scratched her behind.

I told you she wasn’t ready!

Stop arguing and get her back!

The argument faded out as she bounded underneath fast moving cars that darted above her. Some of them swerved, some of them slowed, and some of them ran straight at her, but somehow she made it to the other side of the road unscathed.

Without warning, her nose seemed to open, and she felt as though she were standing in the middle of a bed of flowers, all of the smells so interesting, and so different from one another. She had just picked one to follow, one that smelt of freshly baked cookies, when she felt hands slip around her belly and lift her skywards. She snarled and tried to escape from the hands, but her arms and legs were now useless, and her neck wasn’t long enough for her to bite the hands. She settled for yapping, and yapped as she was put in the back of a car, yapped as the car moved to wherever it was going, and yapped as she was taken out. She could hear a conversation going on between the owner of the hands around her and the person standing opposite her, who smelled like something she couldn’t distinguish but wanted to eat very badly.

The hands cupped around her entire body as they started moving again. She wriggled as much as she could, intrigued by all of the different smells drifting past her nose and curious about all of the other dogs in this place.

She was placed down on a blanket. Two metal bowls were placed in front of her, one with food in it, and one with water in it, and she attacked both with equal vigour. The owner of the hands patted her on the head and stroked her as she ate, saying things that she couldn’t make out.

As soon as the owner of the hands left, she looked around to see that she was in a cage. She yowled, unable to protest the entrapment in any other way. Using her paws did nothing, and she found her head and her teeth to be of little use. She fell asleep with her paw against the cage, too tired to carry on.

When Connie woke up, she was completely naked, and very cold. She couldn’t remember why she was in a cage, or why she was surrounded by dogs, or why her entire body ached. She started to cry, a real wail that made the dogs around her restless. Their barks and yowls only made Connie cry more.

‘I want my mummy,’ she cried, head on the blanket that did nothing to warm the cold cement floor.

‘Jack! I found her!’

Connie looked up to see her mother, dirty and haggard, running towards her, a bundle of fabric in hand. ‘Mummy!’ she squealed, standing up and jumping over the tiny cage barriers.

Her mother wrapped a blanket around her and then squeezed her in a tight hug. ‘Don’t you ever run off like that again, okay?’

‘Okay,’ she said, her voice muffled by her mother’s fleece. She was unsure of exactly what she had done, but flashes of the night’s adventures were coming back to her now.

‘I’m so sorry, Georgie brought her in last night, and we didn’t even think. Good to know you’re showing her the ropes now though.’ The woman behind Connie’s father had wet hair and was wearing clothes that made it clear that she’d got dressed in the dark in a rush. Connie felt sheepish at the sight of her, and turned her head back into her mother’s coat.

‘We’ll get her out of here, sorry for the trouble. Thank you for looking after her.’

‘No problem at all.’

The car ride back home was quiet, her mother focused on the road and her father staring out the window. Connie tried to stay awake, but her eyes drooped as the road wound back to her home. Once home, Connie’s mother took Connie up to have a bath and get some clean clothes on, still silent.

The silence was only broken once all three of them were sitting around the table, eating their breakfasts.

‘Now Connie, you have a month before the next full moon. Next time, no running off, okay?’ Her mother’s voice was stern, her eyes showing no sign of tolerance.

Connie nodded as milk from her cereal dribbled down her chin.

‘Okay then, let’s get to work. You have a lot to learn, little pup.’

Stardust by Neil Gaiman: My favourite books

Stardust is one of those books of which I watched the film before I read it – in fact, I watched the film before I even knew there was a book. It took me some time to even put the book with the film, which is quite embarrassing, but as my teacher lent me a copy in year six (our library was woefully lacking at the time), I was lucky, as everyone I told about it was just as excited as I was. I am obsessed with the world of this book – just last year, I purchased a charity pin from the RSPB that is in the shape of a snowdrop in reference to this book, and I wear it whenever I can.

If you’re ever looking for a stellar example of fantasy fiction set partially within our world, Stardust is the book for you. Starting in the village of Wall, the narrative follows the adventure of one boy – Tristan – as he crosses the wall to retrieve a fallen star for Victoria, the woman he thinks that he’s in love with. He soon discovers that stars are actually people, and an adventure to get the star, who goes by the name Yvain, back to give to Victoria ensues. Combined with this is the quest of a group of three witches to get the star, as  they have to eat hearts of stars to stay alive, beautiful, and powerful, and the story of seven brothers fighting for the throne after their father followed the laws of succession in their royal family, and threw a necklace with a large gemstone on it out of the window. None of the story lines ever become confusing, and they reach a great conclusion that brings all of them together. The world beyond the wall is almost palpable, the aspects fit together to form a world that seems like it couldn’t be the product of one person’s brain.

I put down this book and immediately looked up Gaiman’s other books, even at the age of 11. My love for this book, and Neil Gaiman’s stories in general, has not waned since I read the first few pages. If you ever want to read a feel good fantasy book that must have taken so many charts and balls of yarn in its complexity, but takes no effort on your part to enjoy, read Stardust. And even if not, please just read Stardust anyway. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

 

The edge of the desert

When I reached the edge of the desert, I saw a cube, large, reflective, hovering above the sand and stirring up dust. You told me not to touch the cube, that the cube was dangerous, that I would see the cube and would be tempted by the cube. I couldn’t resist its iridescent surface, I needed to know how cool it felt under my fingers. It was as if the cube called to me, silencing the yammering in my head, and I was at peace.

When I reached the edge of the desert, I saw them, and I knew they would help me. You told me to ignore them, but I knew you just didn’t know, because you hadn’t touched the cube, even though you’d told me you had because no-one who had touched the cube would ignore them . I couldn’t ignore them. It was as if we existed in different dimensions.

When I reached the edge of the desert, I saw their teeth, I saw their syringes and their body bags. You told me to run and never look back, pretend I couldn’t see them, until they gave up. I couldn’t leave you, you took my hand and ran with me, but I couldn’t shake them. It was as if I belonged to them now.

When I reached the edge of the desert, I saw them take me. You told me that you loved me, and that it would all be okay, but I could see you were crying. I couldn’t believe you, not when you handed me over to them. It was if this was what you wanted.