Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. JohnstonExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Published by Dutton Juvenile on March 15, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Retelling
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-stars

Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine.

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don't cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team's summer training camp is Hermione's last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there's a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They're never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she's always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn't the beginning of Hermione Winter's story and she's not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Call me a greedy blogger if you must, but I’m not sure why I requested Exit, Pursued by a Bear. I mean, I DNFed Johnston’s prior book, A Thousand Nights, almost immediately because the writing grated on me. AND the book blurb talks about pregnancy, which is dealbreaker for me. And yet I requested and I got it. Well, okay, that’s a lie. I requested it because Shakespeare retelling and that title yo. But then, when it came time to read it, I went to Wikipedia to read the summary of The Winter’s Tale because I haven’t actually read that one and here’s a gpom:

gif horrified

Like, I see now why I hadn’t read that play because holy hell does it sound like the worst. Anyway, thankfully, this is not a retelling that’s actually RETELLING the original story because that would have been offensive as all hell and just the worst. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is more like “wouldn’t it be great if the heroine didn’t turn into a statue but actually got to have a voice and react to things?” and so it totally outshines the Shakespeare. Sorry not sorry, Shakespeare, but that was not your best work.

Hermione Winters is a cheerleader, full of pep, popularity and school spirit. Basically, she’s absolutely nothing like me. That can sometimes work against a book, but I really like what Johnston did with Hermione. For one thing, she doesn’t play into the dumb cheerleader stereotype, and she’s not a bitchy mean girl either, though it’s possible she ignores people who aren’t in her social circle, but you don’t really see too much of her interacting with non-cheerleaders. Hermione is organized, controlled, fierce, intelligent, and hard-working.

gif i'm strong and i'm loud bring it on

One of my favorite things about the book is Hermione’s friendship with Polly. Strong female friendships don’t crop up often enough in YA, and this is an excellent one. Polly’s the bitchy one, and she’s totally happy with that. They balance and assist one another. Polly’s there to hold her hand through the best and the worst. They’re both scared of being apart at college the following year, but they don’t let that pull them apart early. Like, one of my favorite moments is one Polly confesses something to Hermione View Spoiler » and Hermione throws up, not because she’s mad at Polly for hiding it or because of the secret, but because she’s so upset she’s been a bad friend caught up in her own shit and not noticed what Polly was dealing with.

Normally, I’d be upset with the way that Polly takes a firm backstage and supporting role in the story, because it’s just so typical for the heroine to not notice what’s going on with her “bestie” but in this case it makes sense. It’s not like Hermione didn’t notice because she was so busy with her boyfriend; Hermione was raped and impregnated and left in a lake. Like, Polly gets why Hermione’s not there like she usually is and so do I.

There are a lot of books about rape out there, as there should be as long as society continues to be fucked up as hell. Exit, Pursued by a Bear does things I personally haven’t seen in another book about rape, and it feels fresh as a result. Though there are elements similar to Speak, it’s all handled very differently. Hermione’s a different person and the circumstances of her rape are very different. Since she was drugged, she actually cannot remember the rape, and it sort of feels like it didn’t happen to her, even though she knows it did. View Spoiler » Hermione, only like her fictional counterpart pursues justice and will not be silent as a statue about what was done to her. Hermione’s very much affected and changed by what happened, but her reaction isn’t dramatic, isn’t the expected, which I love because there is no one reaction to rape.

gif bring it on blowjob
Accurate depiction of Leo

The way that Johnston dealt with the character of Leo is interesting. Her boyfriend at the beginning of the novel is jealous of her time spent with other guys at cheer camp and tbh with the girls too. Basically, he’s the worst. Then, after the rape, he tells people about how she was flirting with other guys the whole time and doesn’t support her at all. He comes around a bit at the end, which is more than his character deserved tbh. Unlike the original though, spoiler she’s not going to end up with that douche. Hermione doesn’t end up in a romance HEA, which I think is perfect for the story, but I also like that there’s potential on the horizon for her when she decides she’s ready.

The writing style differs completely from that of A Thousand Nights. If I hadn’t seen the same author name on them both, I never would have guessed they were by the same person. That’s serious talent and I respect it massively, even if the writing in one of them wasn’t personally to my taste. The one thing is that it wasn’t the voiciest writing. Sometimes I could very much tell that the author was coming in to say something and that it wasn’t Hermione; the message overrode character. It’s a great message, so I didn’t massively mind, but when I feel that it does disconnect me emotionally.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear didn’t really sound like the kind of book that would work for me, but it very much did. It’s clear that Johnston can reinvent herself with her writing style and subject matter. She’s definitely one to watch.

Favorite Quote:

I do not want to be anyone’s model for becoming a better person.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif cheerleading

One response to “Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston”

  1. I had no idea this was the same author that wrote A Thousand Nights. Haven’t read that one either yet but intrigued by the serious genre departure. This one doesn’t sound like one I’d usually pick up but it seems like an important enough read. I haven’t read The Winter’s Tale either so I suppose I shall head over to Wiki…
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