Series: Simon Snow #2
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on September 24, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT, Fantasy & Magic, Magic, Gay, Love & Romance, Romance, M/M Romance, Vampires, Witches, New Adult
Source: I Bought It
Reading Challenges: New Release 2019
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.
I have been positively giddy with anticipation waiting for Wayward Son; Carry On is one of my all-time favourites and I couldn’t wait for more Simon and Baz content. I couldn’t even wait for the hardcover copy I ordered to release on 3rd October (the special edition signed copy from Waterstones natch). I caved and bought the eBook so I could read it on 24th September (which falls in line with the US release date).
I’ll confess, I even took the day off work so I could read it without fear of spoiling myself (yep, I’m that much of a fan!) I rattled my way through the book so fast (which was easy to do because the plot. never. stops). The ending was like a gut punch – I couldn’t believe it was over so fast. I immediately started reading again.
Before I get into my review, I’m going to talk a bit about how much Simon and Baz mean to me. Carry On was a very special book. I read it just at the right time and it changed something in me. It was a deeply personal book for many reasons and I fell in love with the world and its characters (especially Baz. Always Baz).
A follow-up book was a thing I dreamed about happening but I never honestly expected it. The story was very self-contained and didn’t necessarily need a sequel. Still, I wanted more. When Wayward Son was announced I was beside myself with glee (I think I actually danced around the living room and gave my other half a real fright!)
There was just so much anticipation for this book. Not just for me either – there have been so many loyal fans eagerly awaiting its release. Was it worth the wait though? That’s a really hard question to answer. I would say yes; but if you think this is going to be an easy book, full of sunshine and unicorns (sustainably farmed or not), you will likely be disappointed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself (again). If you haven’t been following the build up to the release of this book, a bit of background. Wayward Son is the (long) anticipated sequel to Carry On, which was a bit of a phenomenon in the young adult book market. A book that was originally a story within another book (Fangirl), Simon and Baz captured the hearts of many. Even the author herself has admitted to being unable to let the idea of Simon and Baz go.
The character of Cath in Fangirl was a huge fan of Simon Snow – an in-universe Harry Potter-ish story following a boy wizard, the ‘Chosen One’ and his cohorts. Cath shipped Simon with Baz – his arch enemy – and wrote fanfiction of these two characters engaging in a romance. This worked really well within the framework of the story and caught people’s attention. So when a full-length novel was released (a new story though still featuring Simon and Baz as a romantic pairing) it felt very meta. And it totally worked for me. I fell hard for these characters and found the world even more engaging than Harry Potter (sacrilege, I know, but I feel how I feel). 😉
Carry On is therefore a very special book for me. It would be hard for anything to top that, if I’m being brutally honest. So did Wayward Son meet my (admittedly) sky-high expectations? Yes… and also no. It didn’t follow the route I expected the book to go. Which was pretty hard at first to accept but the more I thought about it, the more perfectly imperfect I find this story to be. It subverted my expectations which is a really good thing in hindsight, since that was the whole point of Carry On to begin with and what made that book so very special to me.
Wayward Son is a book about journeys (both literal and figurative). These characters have all gone through hell and back. This book doesn’t pull any punches. It isn’t kind to its characters. They struggle. A lot. They misunderstand each other. Again, a lot. It wasn’t a happy book.
I didn’t feel all the squishy wonderful feelings I did when I read Carry On – that book felt a lot more hopeful even when horrible things were happening. This book didn’t quite have as many nasty external things happening to the characters but it didn’t let up on them either. It was a hard book to get through. My anxiety was on a constant high throughout the whole book; I was just waiting for the worst to happen. My heart was in my throat, my skin felt tight, and I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the fact that these characters were once again in my life.
It doesn’t sound like a fun experience does it? Well, it wasn’t. Yet… it also felt like a necessary one. After everything Simon, Baz, and Penny (even Agatha) had been through in the last book, it would have felt cheap to sweep their trauma under the rug. These characters are hurting. And they need to hurt. After all, its the only way to truly heal.
Simon Snow hasn’t got off the sofa for weeks, maybe even months. He has stopped going to Uni, stopped going to therapy, and only leaves the sofa to pick up cheap booze and food. Both Penny and Baz are worried about his state of mind. They are walking on eggshells around him, not knowing how to help him.
Baz is hurting just as much, and cannot bear the fact that Simon keeps pushing him away. They haven’t been intimate at all in months, and Baz is just waiting for the shoe to drop – for Simon to dump him once and for all.
Penny is also finding it tough to deal with Simon’s low mood and mood swings. Not only that but there seems to be trouble brewing with Micah (her boyfriend who lives in America) and she is getting dodged by Agatha who left for California after the events of Carry On and has yet to return home.
Penny decides that to announce plans for a road trip across America; to help Agatha, patch things up with Micah, and most importantly, get Simon out of his funk.
Things don’t exactly go to plan. Simon, Baz and Penny end up cruising from Chicago, across Nebraska, eventually landing up in Las Vegas. Along the way they pick up a magic-chasing ‘Normal’ called Shepard, who is determined to find a way into the magickal world. Fighting blood-thirsty vampires, dodging dragons and other weird and wonderful creatures… its just business as usual for Simon and Penny. Baz… not so much.
However, Simon’s PTSD and depression threatens to destroy the already fragile and tenuous bond between him and Baz. Baz also has other concerns on his mind when he encounters some vampires who could teach him how to deal with his vampirism. This could be what finally draws the two of them apart, this time for good.
Whew, even recounting the above makes me hurt – my heart was broken and bleeding seeing just how fractured Simon and Baz were. This book hurt. It hurt a lot, in fact. I have seen a lot of negative feedback for Wayward Son. On one hand, I get it. This wasn’t what people were expecting or hoping for. I think everyone felt that Simon and Baz would be struggling, but ultimately working through their demons. Together.
Seeing them seemingly on the brink of a breakup throughout the whole book was tough to swallow. I felt so much pain at seeing them like this. However, the more I thought about it (and a re-read helped a lot) I realized that this was the only logical path for the story to follow. It would have felt unrealistic if everything was all hunky dory for them. They have so much baggage to get through. They spent all their time at school as enemies who didn’t speak to each other for cripes sake, it wouldn’t have been realistic for them to suddenly be experts at communication.
Simon, in particular has always struggled to find and use his words. His deep-seated depression at losing his magic and his father-figure in one fell swoop, only exacerbated his already outstanding issues.
Baz isn’t much better. From a family who rarely, if ever, talked about the important things, with a father who ignores his vampiric nature and queerness… he isn’t much better at communicating his feelings than Simon is. He is so wary around Simon; so afraid of saying the wrong thing that he doesn’t say the right things either.
It’s tough thing to bear witness to. To see these characters pull away from each other; I just wanted them to talk goddammit! To lock them both in a room and force them to air their feelings and fears to each other. It was beyond frustrating to witness the pair of them loving each other so much but being unable to communicate this to each other. Neither of them were good at showing or verbalising how utterly and hopelessly in love with each other they are.
Penny isn’t having a good time of it either. Things with Micah don’t work out as she expected, Simon and Baz are disintegrating in front of her and she has an upstart Normal to contend with. When they find out Agatha is in trouble, they have to mobilize and get their crap together to try and rescue their friend. But it might be too late…
So, its fair to say I had conflicting feelings about Wayward Son. It made me feel things – not all of them good. I physically ached for these characters who are so dear to me. It wasn’t fun seeing their hopes and dreams dashed and broken. I hated seeing how Simon’s depression made him feel so inferior and less than his friends. I hated to see Baz hurt (I always hate to see Baz hurt, my poor, sad boy). Penny also lost her belief in herself for a while there too. My poor babies were hurting so much and it made me beyond sad. It broke my bloody heart.
But, and this is important, I have realized that this is something they had to go through. Yes, I’m frustrated at how hard their journey has been. I’m also not happy about the clear lack of resolution. Nothing is resolved, nothing at all and it’s really hard to accept. The only other book that has ever left me in such a jumble of emotions was Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb. That book’s ending utterly destroyed me. Wayward Son had a similar effect and I felt like hurling things at the wall and sobbing my heart out at the end. I spent the rest of Tuesday in a daze… I’ve never quite had a book hangover quite as severe.
I hurt. I hurt a lot.
Hindsight is a funny thing though, now a few days later, I’m beginning to see the beauty of this book. This book deals with trauma – and does it so well that of course it is going to make the reader feel sad and helpless. That’s how depression and trauma makes you feel. It resonated with me so strongly because I have felt that hopeless and rudderless. Unmoored and broken. It hurts. It hurts so goddamned much. And that’s the point. It’s supposed to hurt.
In order to heal, sometimes you need to get down to your lowest low. I think that’s the point Rainbow Rowell has been trying to get across. The whole beauty of this series is that it doesn’t end with the bad guys being defeated and everyone living happily ever after. That’s not what this series is about, it has always subverted this trope. The story isn’t over. It ends so abruptly because it isn’t an ending at all.
I’m fairly certain that there is going to be another book. I’m pretty confident about it, actually. I think that the story isn’t over yet. Simon and Baz aren’t over yet. They will eventually (hopefully!) get their heads out of their own arses! The journey isn’t going to be easy (journeys never are) but they will get through it. And be all the stronger for it.
Never fear though, It’s not all doom, gloom and despondency. There are moments of levity (it wouldn’t be a Rainbow Rowell book without a healthy dollop of humour!) Shepard is a very welcome addition to the gang and brought a nice balance to the team. His enthusiasm was contagious and it was good to have a sort-of audience insert – a character who sees things from the outside. He was a very endearing character and I predict that he is definitely is going to be a new fan favourite!
Carry On was such a perfectly contained story, so Wayward Son always had a hard act to follow and there was always the danger of encroaching upon the perfection of the first book. Carry On was originally meant to be a standalone – that is why the story is so well-wrapped up (with a few loose ends hanging because hey, that’s life).
Wayward Son is a work in progress. These characters are a work in progress. They aren’t going to get everything right first time around. They are still just kids after all. They have a lot of growing to do and I, for one, cannot wait to see it!
This is less a review and more an outpouring of my thoughts and feelings. I’m sorry it isn’t more… polished, for want of a better word. This book strummed up a lot of feelings and emotions for me; I was never going to be able to judge it critically or objectively (it means to much to me for me to be able to do that).
I just hope that the general negativity towards this book will not discourage people from reading it. I get it – I totally do. I was pretty mad (and sad) too – but I think the overall message of this book is a powerful one and it would be a pity to judge it on what is clearly only part of the story. Books are supposed to make you feel – if they have accomplished that, well then the author has done their job. Happy, sad, angry… these are all valid emotions. You can be disappointed – just don’t give up and don’t let the hurt overwhelm you. Have hope.
The story isn’t over…
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Great review, Brin! I’m dying to read it!