I just finished Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell as I’m writing this, and I have so many thoughts about it that I thought I’d write a slightly more elaborate review than I normally do.
Please be aware that this review might contain spoilers, both of Carry On, as I’m discussing its sequel, and of Wayward Son. For Wayward Son, there are only minor spoilers, but there were a few things I couldn’t address without explaining a little bit about the book.
The story is supposed to be over.
Simon Snow did everything he was supposed to do. He beat the villain. He won the war. He even fell in love. Now comes the good part, right? Now comes the happily ever after…
So why can’t Simon Snow get off the couch?
What he needs, according to his best friend, is a change of scenery. He just needs to see himself in a new light…
That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West.
They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place…
With Wayward Son, Rainbow Rowell has written a book for everyone who ever wondered what happened to the Chosen One after he saved the day. And a book for everyone who was ever more curious about the second kiss than the first. It’s another helping of sour cherry scones with an absolutely decadent amount of butter.
Come on, Simon Snow. Your hero’s journey might be over – but your life has just begun.
Rep: m/m romance, British-Indian side character, black side character, Asian-Latinx side character
CWs: depression, alcohol consumption (and possible alcoholism), blood, guns and gunshots/gunshot wounds
My first thought upon starting this book is: the tone of this novel is entirely different from the tone of Carry On. One of the main reasons I enjoyed Carry On is that it’s really quite fluffy, and it’s pretty hilarious. Neither of those are true for Wayward Son. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mean I had to adjust my expectations a little bit.
I still absolutely love these characters, which is the second reason I loved Carry On as much as I did. Interestingly, while there’s a clear shift in tone, the characterization is surprisingly consistent throughout both of these novels. Yes, the characters have matured a little, but other than that, not much has changed.
However, I did have two issues when it comes to the characters in Wayward Son. The first one is that Simon is shown and even explicitly said to have depression at the start of the novel. Once they take off for their roadtrip though, he seems to magically improve. Sure, he’s still not quite himself again, but he does instantly become a lot better, which seemed quite harmful to me, as that’s not at all how depression works. It also felt like the book was taking a step back from Carry On in this sense, since Simon was in therapy at the end of that book.
My second issue has to do with the relationship between Simon and Baz. At the start of the novel, some problems are introduced for their relationship, which leads any experienced reader to assume that those problems will be resolved or at least challenged throughout the novel. So I kept waiting for some sort of resolution, and there may have been a tiny bit of that, but it wasn’t nearly as much as I was hoping, and, frankly, needing to see. This is both good and bad, because it does leave me wanting more, and I’m quite amazed at how the author managed to make an established relationship feel like a slowburn after all.
Plotwise, I really don’t know what this book was trying to achieve. It really is mainly just a roadtrip to America, and the plot didn’t come on until over halfway through the book. When it did come on, I have to admit I wasn’t all that interested. Don’t get me wrong, this book was very entertaining, but that’s mostly because of the characters, and less because what happens to them is actually that interesting.
So does that mean nothing happens in this book? No. Not quite. There’s actually quite a lot of development, if you just know where to look. Both Simon and Baz go through quite a lot of character growth, it’s just very understated. Which can be really great, and in some ways it was, but it did leave me wishing they communicated about it more.
Lastly, I wanted to address something that seemed iffy to me while reading this book. A large part of it is about the way vampires are treated in the UK and in the US, and in a few instances, the book uses language for that, like “oppression”, and even “genocide”, that’s usually used in terms of racial inequality. I know a lot of books deal with these kinds of topics by creating inequality between different species, but the word choice seemed ill-fitting here, so I did want to address that.
Another thing I wanted to address, is that I’m mostly a fan of Carry On because I read and enjoyed it before I really got into LGBTQ+ books by Own Voices authors. It’s of course very clear that the representation here isn’t quite up to that standard, and I do wish some things were handled differently. For instance, Simon seems to show internalized homophobia, possibly combined with toxic masculinity, when Baz wears a scarf around his head in one occasion, and when he wears a floral suit in another. He makes some negative comments about that, although he later comes around. Another thing I’m not the biggest fan of is that there is no use of labels whatsoever, except for “queer” (once, I think), which isn’t really a label that a non-queer author should be using. Especially because multiple characters show signs of possibly being asexual or aspec, this is a real shame to me. But also, “gay” and “bisexual” just really aren’t bad words.
Overall, I’m both pleased and let down by this novel. Pleased, because it was a treat to revisit these characters and watch them grow. And let down, because the plot really could have been a lot stronger. I had a lot of fun reading this, but it’s definitely not the best book ever. Based on the ending (which I won’t tell you about, of course), I am really hoping for a sequel!
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