A year after Rainbow Rowell released her much beloved novel Carry On, the first book in the Simon Snow series, the second in the series, Wayward Son, has been published. Carry On received stellar reviews from audiences; some even claimed it to be comparable to the Harry Potter series. Last year, fans of the novel were left with a void in their hearts after finishing Carry On, but now that void, which can only be filled by more Simon and Baz interactions, can be filled… but not in the way audiences may expect. Rowell’s Wayward Son tells the story of what happens to the hero after the battle has been fought and the war has been won. What readers will learn is that there are always new battles to fight, and not everything ends in happily ever after.
At the end of Carry On, Simon sacrifices his magic in order to defeat the Insidious Humdrum—who turns out to be sort of a version of himself? I know kind of weird—Baz graduates from Watford at the top of his class, all thanks to Penelope who decided not to return for her last term at Watford; and Agatha runs off to California, attempting to get as far away from magic as she possibly can. Wayward Son fast forwards a year into the future. Simon and Penelope share an apartment in London. Baz and Penelope are both attending university, and Simon is doing relatively nothing. He sits on the couch day after day, needing Penelope to spell his wings and tail if he ever wants to wander the outside world. A complete one-eighty from how we left it, Baz and Simon’s relationship is beginning to suffer. Simon is always cranky, and Baz doesn’t know where they stand as a couple. It’s almost as if stripping the magic from Simon created someone completely different. This is when Penelope has her amazing idea to take a trip to America—something she and Simon had always talked about doing—and what starts out as an innocent idea to help cheer Simon up becomes an even bigger threat to their lives and the magical world.
Relationships and identity are major themes throughout this novel. All three main characters struggled with their identities for the duration of Wayward Son—Simon struggled with being stripped of his hero status, Baz contemplated his identity as a vampire, and Penelope attempted to find where she fits in a world outside of Watford. As these three characters struggled with their own identities, their relationships were tested, especially pertaining to Baz and Simon. Baz has felt estranged from Simon ever since they defeated the Humdrum and Simon lost his magic. They don’t do any of the things they did when their relationship first began, they don’t seem as close. Much of this had to do with Simon’s identity crisis. He was always the hero up to this point. Now it seems to him that he’s lost his purpose.
Rainbow Rowell did a fantastic job portraying hero after-the-fact in Wayward Son. In most action-adventure novels, the story ends with the hero saving the day and living happily ever after. However, the audience seldom sees the hero after his or her job is done. In this novel, we see exactly that, and in Simon’s case, the future is fairly bleak as he struggles to find a new purpose in life and to convince himself that he is deserving of Baz. Similarly, with Penelope, although she has moved on and is attending university, she is struggling to figure out how she fits into the outside world. At Watford, she was the top of her class and able to fix anything with a snap of her fingers (literally and figuratively). However, as she discovers during their road trip across America, the real world doesn’t work like that. There are mages more powerful and experienced, and obstacles not introduced to her at Watford.
Although the book did very well in regard to its themes and its portrayal of a different side of the main character, I found that it moved a bit slower than its predecessor, Carry On. The story moves a lot like a road trip across America might move—long stretches of seeing relatively the same thing. The beginning of the book and the beginning of their trip is a lot of Penelope being cranky and hungry, and Baz being confused about where he and Simon stand. It wasn’t until Nebraska that the story really got going.
Another aspect of the novel that was lacking was a resolution between Simon and Baz. Now, I realize that not all stories have a happy ending, and certainly not all relationships do either. However, I would have liked to know which direction they were leaning toward: working it out or letting each other go. Adding this to the novel wouldn’t necessarily have made Wayward Son better or worse, but I would’ve enjoyed it. Although there was no definite consensus about Baz and Simon, Baz does bring up an insightful point that stuck—is Simon acting like the Simon he first started dating because he feels like the hero again? Or is this how it’s going to be even when he’s not being the hero? As Simon, Baz, and Penelope encounter more obstacles and battles on their trip, Simon starts to cheer up and feel like himself again, most likely because he feels like he’s doing something important again and he has things to protect his loved ones from.
All in all, Wayward Son is a fantastic sequel to Carry On. It portrays feelings most all adolescents feel after graduating high school or the equivalent: lost and confused (but with more trees, sky, and magic).