Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
I read scootsa 1000’s review of Exit, Pursued by a Bear and instantly thought, Yes, I very much want to read this book. I read Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (categorized as a romance) nine years ago in a Shakespeare seminar taught by one of my favorite undergraduate professors. In her planning of the class, she’d asked several majors if we’d like to do the typical tragedy-comedy dichotomy, and, to her infinite delight, we begged for the obscurer plays: the histories and the romances. Nerd moment: my favorite ever Shakespeare play is I Henry IV. It was my undergraduate honors thesis, and truly one of the more interesting historical explorations of power and heritage. Definitely check out The Hollow Crown, which is BBC’s rendition of the second Henriad (that is, Richard II, I Henry IV, II Henry IV, and Henry V). While some details of The Winter’s Tale are a bit fuzzy, I do remember that Hermione is the wronged queen banished to death, and it is her daughter and her loyal friend Paulina who help the king repent of his accusations and bring her back to life through art.
So to bring a more obscure play to life with a young adult novel, titled with the best-ever stage direction of all time? NERD HEAVEN. [sidenote: do you play the bear funny or scary? This was the everlasting debate when my sister went to see this play at the Stratford Festival of Canada.]
Trigger warning for those who need it: frank, though not graphic, discussion of rape.
Hermione Winter is a cheerleader in a small town where there is little else to do. Smart, self-aware, and driven, Hermione and her best friend Polly Olivier are the co-captains on a high-flying team determined to do well in their competitive season. The summer before senior year of high school is the annual Cheer Camp. Right before it’s over, there’s a party. Someone hands Hermione a drink. She blacks out. Twelve hours later, her entire world has shifted and she has to fill in the blanks. This is ultimately not a story of rape but of empowerment. It deals with rape, yes, but it also deals with finding yourself through the mist of unexpected trauma. It deals with slut-shaming and victim-blaming. It also deals with the miraculous power of unconditional love of friends, which is one of the greatest loves of all.
I loved this book, because it was smart, funny, honest, and different from other young adult novels. The discussion of rape is frank without being graphic or gratuitous, which I appreciated. I realize that all rape stories are different, and this one did not veer into maudlin or sentimental territory, which was refreshing and empowering to the protagonist. This book may not be entirely grounded in reality, but it’s okay to have an ideal for which to yearn and strive. If you like Veronica Mars, this is definitely in that same style, though I’d argue, even more openly feminist than Veronica was.
So, will your bear be funny or scary?