I wish I could explain what Carry On is. It’s a young-adult fantasy novel and also a spoof on the young-adult fantasy novel. It’s a spin-off of Rowell’s novel Fangirl that doesn’t include any of the original characters and takes place in a totally different world. It’s a piece of fan fiction that is related to the Harry Potter series the same way the Fifty Shades of Gray books are related to the Twilight series, except that Carry On is really well-written.
In Fangirl, Cath is a fan-fiction writer. She’s writing a fanfic based on a series of books that bear a strong resemblance to the Harry Potter books, except that there are vampires too. And Cath’s wildly popular fanfic bears a strong resemblance to Harry-Draco slashfic, in that she’s taken the two (presumably straight) male leads of the original series, and written a romance between them. Carry On is that story, sort of — Rainbow Rowell has written the last book of a non-existent fantasy series that owes a heavy debt to a real fantasy series, and this shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does.
Simon Snow is an orphan with mysterious powers who attends a special school for kids with magical abilities, located somewhere in England. Sound familiar? It is and it isn’t Harry Potter — it’s Rowell celebrating all the things she loves about the series and also putting her own spin on the things she’d like to see done differently. At the heart of the story is Simon’s love/hate relationship with his roommate Baz, as well as, of course, an epic conflict that could destroy not only the magickal but also the Normal world. It’s smart, it’s funny, and I found it a real page-turner.