I've read a lot of reviews of books by Rainbow Rowell, but until now I had not read any of her books, so when I saw this one at a Little Free Library at a neighbor's house I picked it up.
As I started to read it, I thought it was simply a Harry Potter clone (a story about an orphan who doesn't know he's a wizard, who goes to a school for magical folks) but I figured there was probably more to it than that and did a bit of research. I learned that this is in fact some metafiction on Rowell's part. She explains how she came to write the book in an author's note at the end of the book. She begins her note with the following information
If you've read my book Fangirl, you know Simon Snow began as a fictional character in that novel.
A fictional-fictional character. Kind of an amalgam and descendant of a hundred other fictional Chosen Ones.
In Fangirl, Simon is the hero of a series of children's adventure novels written by Gemma T. Leslie - and the subject of much fanfiction written by the main character, Cath.
Rowell goes on to say that while she was able to let go of Cath and her world, she could not let go of Simon Snow, so she wrote her own story about him.
And so I read the story on its own terms.
When Simon Snow returns to Watford for his final year of school he discovers that his nemesis (and roommate) Baz is missing. Baz's mother was once the headmistress of Watford, but was killed when Baz was very young. The ghost of Baz's mother comes looking for him in his dorm room, but finds only Simon and so she leaves a message with him asking that Baz avenge her death. When Baz does return he and Simon make a truce in order to work together to find the killer (and the expected love story ensues). Meanwhile the entire magic world is fighting an enigmatic monster called the Humdrum who is creating "dead zones" across Great Britain where magic does not work. The Mage (current headmaster at Watford) is spearheading the fight by conducting warrant-less searches of wizard homes, raiding their personal libraries looking for information to find out who is working with the Humdrum. (Books are referred to as "treasures".) The Mage insists that those who have "nothing to hide" have nothing to worry about. Baz's is worried because he knows that his family keeps "banned books and dark objects". The Mage banned some books (and words!) after Baz's mother died. Simon's friend Penny is likewise concerned about what the Mage and his goons might find at her family's house. Simon insists that her family wouldn't have anything, but Penny isn't sure.
You know my mum. 'Information wants to be free.' 'There's no such thing as a bad thought.' Our library is practically as big as Watford's and better stocked. If you wanted to find something dangerous there, I'm sure you could.
Baz notices that the books in his mother's library are out of order. This is concerning because his mother always had them sorted by subject. Baz "was always allowed to touch her books...to read any book, as long as [he] put it back in its place and promised to ask in something confused or frightened him". Well, imagine that. Rather than censoring what he could read, Baz's mother "parented" him instead.
In addition to their home libraries Simon and his classmates use the school library regularly. This despite that fact that "most of the magickal books have been removed from the Watford library. It is not okay, however, that Simon "snuck a few bound volumes [of The Magickal Record - "the closest thing magicians have to a newspaper...out of the library", even if he does believe his reasons are valid.