Exit, Pursued by a Bear – E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a Bear – E.K. Johnston

26790913Veronica 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.

It feels weird to say that a book about rape was good, but this book about rape was good. It’s a hard topic to deal with, and I can’t say I’ve read any other YA that talks about rape so openly, but I think it’s important that this book exists (plus that cover is gorgeous).

That being said, I had some issues with it.

I’ve read reviews that talked about how “easy” this book was, how Hermione’s support system was so perfect and, apart from some nasty rumours early on, she was never treated differently. And it did, for the most part, seem too “perfect” – everyone knew what to say and how to act, and Hermione herself was so well put together, it was hard to believe she was a teenager, nevermind a teenager who had been drugged and raped and – MINI SPOILER ALERT – had an abortion. Just one of those things should have been enough to push her over the edge, but she was remarkably calm, almost robotic, in the way she described her thoughts and feelings.

While Hermione herself mentions that she feels disconnected from the event because she can’t remember what happened, it’s hard, as a reader, to even begin to understand her when the narrative feels so disjointed, more like a checklist of events and moments that had to happen before the climactic scene at the end (which lasted all of two pages) than a real story. I know I liked E.K. Johnston’s writing style when I read A Thousand Nights, so maybe it was Hermione’s character that I couldn’t connect with? I did like her best friend, Polly, though, and I liked Polly’s sideplot, though it did feel like it came out of nowhere.

…if I were dead, they could just bury me…and move on. Broken is harder to deal with.

One thing I absolutely did not get was Hermione’s relationship with Leo. Leo proves himself to be a jealous dick who basically victim-blames Hermione because she dared to speak to other guys at their cheerleading camp, and she dumps him (and rightfully so!). But she never really seemed interested in him in the first place, so why were they together at all? What purpose did he play apart from being the jealous ex who turns around in the end? Literally anyone else could have taken the role of victim-blamer and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the overall story.

You’re okay with asking a girl who was wearing a pretty dress and had nice hair, who went to the dance with her cabin mates, who drank from the same punch bowl as everyone else – you’re okay with asking that girl what mistake she made, and you wouldn’t think to ask a boy how he would avoid raping someone?

 

E.K. Johnston does get props for setting it in Canada – northern Ontario, no less – with a brief mention of my hometown (Amy, another girl at the cheerleading camp, is from Mississauga), not to mention the fact that Polly decides to attend my alma mater (McMaster represent!). I never realized cheerleading was a big deal in Canada, to be honest, since I don’t think my high school even had a squad. And I also don’t get why Hermione needed to ace calculus to get into a Humanities/Social Science based program, but it’s also been a while since I had to apply to university, so maybe that’s a thing now?

I haven’t read The Winter’s Tale yet (I’ve always wanted to), but now I might have to, to see if I can catch all the Shakespeare references in this book.

Rating:

3 interrobangs

3,5 interrobangs

Prospero Lost – L. Jagi Lamplighter

Prospero Lost:

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“More than four hundred years after the events of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the sorcerer Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and his other children have attained everlasting life. Miranda is the head of her family’s business, Prospero Inc., which secretly has used its magic for good around the world. One day, Miranda receives a warning from her father: “Beware of the Three Shadowed Ones.” When Miranda goes to her father for an explanation, he is nowhere to be found.

Miranda sets out to find her father and reunite with her estranged siblings, each of which holds a staff of power and secrets about Miranda’s sometimes-foggy past. Her journey through the past, present and future will take her to Venice, Chicago, the Caribbean, Washington, D.C., and the North Pole. To aid her, Miranda brings along Mab, an aerie being who acts like a hard-boiled detective, and Mephistopheles, her mentally-unbalanced brother. Together, they must ward off the Shadowed Ones and other ancient demons who want Prospero’s power for their own….”

I’ve been on a bit of a Shakespeare kick the last two weeks: Will last week and Prospero Lost this week. I read most of it on a bus from London to Toronto – I started reading as soon as I sat down and didn’t stop until over 2 hours later when the bus pulled into the station. It was THAT good.

I really enjoyed The Tempest when I read it a few years ago, so I was already familiar with the “original”. But Lamplighter took these characters and gave them a whole new identity – in the best way possible. We don’t actually meet Prospero, but Miranda, despite being 500+ years old and having magical powers, is still very human: she has flaws, she makes mistakes, she turns into a love-sick girl when faced with the man who left her at the altar centuries ago. In short, she’s marvelously well-rounded. Plus the supporting characters are fantastic.

Mab is described as the embodiment of every film noir detective ever – complete with somewhat sarcastic quips – which makes him easy to imagine. And I personally loved her crazy brother Mephisto (Mephistopheles) who not only provided comic relief but also starred in one of the most intriguing (in my opinion) sub-plots (what WAS that thing he turned into?! Why is he so crazy?! How did he get the thing back from the guys?!).

I loved the writing style: Lamplighter perfectly balanced lighthearted anecdotes with darker moments, and occasionally incorporated back-story that added to the plot instead of slowing it down. The pacing was also great: there was never a dull moment and (as cliched as it sounds) it was hard to put the book down. You know how sometimes you can tell a book is going to be awesome by the first five pages? This was definitely the case with Prospero Lost. It ended with enough of a cliffhanger that I am desperate to buy (or rather, get Ro to buy, since I borrowed it from her) the sequel.

Will – Grace Tiffany

Will: A Novel

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“Will Shakespeare has left Stratford for London and pitched himself headlong into the chaotic, perilous world of the theater. Through raw will-and an amazing gift for words- he raises himself from poor player to master playwright. But as his success earns him great pleasure and adoration from others, it also draws the jealous wrath of Christopher Marlowe, a baby-faced genius whose anger is as punishing as his poetry is sweet…

From the pen of Grace Tiffany, a Renaissance scholar and Shakespeare historian, leaps a wild, vivid tale that brings Will Shakespeare to life.”

So, this review comes to you while I’m on a bus to London (Ontario, not England), and I, like the young William Shakespeare so beautifully described in this book, am hoping to pass the time by writing.

I must admit that, while I enjoy what little of Shakespeare I’ve read (one day I’ll read all of his plays…one day), I didn’t really know much about the man himself. This book solved that problem.

Starting a few months before he met (and eventually married) Anne Hathaway, Will tells the story of Shakespeare’s humble beginnings in Stratford, his early experiments with writing, his struggle to become an established playwright while acting (on the stage) the plays of his rivals, his consequent success, and ends as the Globe Theatre burns to the ground.

What’s interesting is that it doesn’t focus just on his writing – it shows the complicated relationship between Will and his sometimes-estranged wife and children. Anne shows confusion – and occasional bitterness – toward her husband’s writing obsession, especially when it draws him away to far-away London with few trips home in between staging his plays.

The writing is very well-done: historical details and fictional elements blend so that sometimes it’s hard to see what is true and what is not so true. But that’s part of what makes the book so fascinating.

At times, I forgot that I was reading about a real person: Will was such a fleshed out character, with visible flaws that, rather than spoil my image of the great playwright, made him more real (more accessible, I guess).

The only problem is that I keep trying to talk like Shakespeare i.e. throwing in “methinks” and “dost” and “forsooth”, etc.

Highly recommended for any Shakespeare fan and/or anyone who fancies a well-described jaunt through 16th century England.

And thus ends my review.

[Exit, pursued by a bear.]