Thursday, March 24, 2016

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

Title: Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Written by: E.K. Johnston
Published: March 15, 2006 by Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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 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.

I'm not sure I knew precisely what I was getting into when I picked up this book. But I read a preview and loved the voice so I preordered a copy because I needed to know what came next. I'm glad I did because this is a beautiful, deep, and important YA contemporary.

On the barest level, this book is a retelling of A Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare which is one of the major reasons why I read it right away because this is retellings month (and side note, I'm so glad I did read this right away). As someone who is woefully behind on reading Shakespeare, I'm not very familiar with A Winter's Tale. But this book made me interested in the original story. I am familiar with the general plot and some of the characters and it had me looking up more information about it and wanting to read the original. Which is, I guess, the mark of a good retelling of something that you aren't super familiar with. But in general. I really liked the way that the author took the original and brought it into the modern era. She played with the world and the characters in an interesting and creative way. I love those kinds of Shakespearean retelling. You see them a lot in movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and She's the Man, but it was great to see that in a book. It worked really well to create a framework for an interesting and dramatic story but that is only on the most superficial level of this book and this is a very deep story.

Because even though it is inspired by Shakespeare, this was a completely modern story that deals with some really serious issues. If you go deeper into the book you will find that it's about a teenage girl who is dealing with the consequences of her sexual assault and the way society handles these kinds of incidents. This is the part of the book that I didn't know I was getting into and honestly the part that impressed me more than anything else. The more of the book I read, the more of an impact it made on me. It's such an important and empowering book that shows the characters overcoming such a horrible situation and making tough decision after tough decision, including whether or nor she should get an abortion. The aftermath of sexual assault and the attempt to cope is not always easy and the author really expresses the turmoil but also the strength a lot of women show in the face of such adverse situations. Hermione was a character I completely supported.  I was initially interested in this book because of the Veronica Mars comparison and there are a lot similarities with Veronica and Hermione. She was sarcastic and tough but vulnerable and uncertain. She was real. When I read a preview of the book it was the character and her voice that convinced me I needed to read more of this book.

But if you go even deeper into this book you will find a tremendous story of friendship. Hermione is not the only amazing character in Exit, Pursued by a Bear. When Hermione is trying to cope she has an amazing support system behind her between her parents and her cheerleading team. Her parents were great and involved in the way I think you don't see in a lot of YA. They wanted what's best for their daughter but they still let her make her own decisions and were there to catch her if she fell. The friendship and comradere that the team shows was also inspiring. Most of them rallied to her side and even the ones that didn't gave the book a realistic feel. But my favorite relationship though is the one with Hermione and her best friend Polly.  I'm not a big fan of romances but I love books about friendships, especially female friendships, and this was a fantastic one. The two were an inseparable team and it was great seeing the love and support they had for one another. The friendships in this book was such a bright spot.

But the friendship was not the only bright spot of this book. Johnston's writing is beautiful and important but at the sane time has a slightly lighthearted tone. You may think that this wouldn't do such a serious issue justice but it does and it makes it feel even more realistic. It perfectly portrays the ups and downs of life and trying to make your way through it. It shows the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of life and especially when it comes to getting over trauma. And for me that made it all the more interesting a read. That to me is the perfect contemporary, when if walks the fine line between serious and lighthearted. I'm not a huge fan of books that are super serious even when they are issue books and I think here Johnston brilliantly walked the line between dramatic and funny (which by the way is also very Veronica Mars if you ask me). It had a message and made its points without being preachy which I appreciated tremendously. Plus the characters used humor to cope and they also did their best to focus on the positive. Because of that, it felt like an honest portrayal and made all the more of an impact.

On the whole Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a beautiful and impactful book that is not just a Shakespearean retelling. It's a story of friendship, overcoming adversity, and contemporary life. I'm so glad that I took the time to read it as part of my retellings month because this book is so much deeper than that and a brilliant read. It is one of my favorite reads of the year so far.

I give Exit, Pursued by a Bear 10 out of 10 stars

(This was a really hard book to rate. I did love it and it totally blew me away. There is nothing that I didn't like about it and I think it will stick with me for some time but I was till reluctant to give it 10 stars for some reason. But in the end I had no reason not to).

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. I would absolutely recommend this book to everyone. If you are a fan of modern Shakespeare retellings in the vein of 10 Things I Hate About You then check this out. But even if you are not and you are looking for a story with great female friendship or a book that is a serious issue book that still has lighthearted moments then pick this up.

Have you read Exit, Pursued by a Bear? What did you think? Leave me a comment. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Strong female frienship, amazing retelling and great balance between serious and funny?? I do NEED to read this one NOW!

  2. Wow. 10 stars! This is my book club book for April. I will be reading it soon. I didn't know it was a retelling. I am not familiar with A Winter's Tale. I'm even more excited to read this book now after your review. Thanks!

  3. I've been hearing so much good about this book!! This makes me SO happy!! I've been wanting to read this, but YA pregnancy books are a hard NO for me--- mostly because I cannot think of one that I've even liked. They always come off preachy and I just think it's a really hard thing to write. But this is so much more than pregnancy, so maybe that's why it's different?? Anyway, fab review... I'm definitely going to read this book!!