Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (@ek_johnston)

There’s no wrong way to process trauma. We might not agree with the way someone does it, but we cannot dictate the way they process. I won’t even say choose to process. It’s not always a choice. Sometimes, the way we react to things is very different from what we say we would do in a hypothetical situation. E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear tells of the story of Hermione’s trauma and her subsequent actions.

This book is sold as a retelling of The Winter’s Tale, but with the exception of some names and the name. the two have little in common. Admittedly, it’s been years since I read the play, so maybe there’s more there that I would recognize with a real comparison piece, but that’s not what’s happening here. Here I’m talking about this book. Now, I shamefully have to admit that I had no idea what the title meant. Stage directions have never really been my thing. So I did some research before I read the book. The title totally fits, and hints at how the story is going to wrap up. The tagline on Goodreads claims this book is Veronica Mars meets Shakespeare. As a huge VM fan, I can say with certainty that I have zero, and I mean zero, idea how this compares to Veronica Mars at all. There is no mystery, no investigation, no challenging authority or channeling of that fighting, persnickety spirit. The only thing these characters have in common is that they’re blond.

Hermione (the character notes that this could be a reference to the play or Harry Potter) is a cheerleader. Her team – The Golden Bears. She’s a hell of a cheerleader. She’s the captain. She’s an athlete. She’s elite. They’re all athletes. Cheerleading is hard. But it’s really great. Really, really great. And you get to wear tons of ribbons in your hair! For real guys! Before we get into what I liked about the book, let’s talk about the minor issues that keep this book from being fabulous. First – I don’t love the writing. It’s not terrible by any means. It’s just slightly on the positive side of okay. If not for the subject matter, it might have been a bigger problem. Second – this is a cheerleading story that happens to involve a rape. Not a story about rape trauma and recover that involves a cheerleader. The focus of the book is on the cheerleading. Maybe that was the intention, but it takes away from the importance of the story underneath. It makes it almost tentative in its message. Continue reading

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Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler (@carolynmackler)

It’s not about the big stuff. This idea has come up in a couple things I’ve read/listened to/watched recently. About how we focus on these big moments in our lives – The guy holding the boombox over his head blasting Peter Gabriel – And forget about the boring moments that tie everything together – The ride beside each other on the bus (yeah, yeah, I know I’m mixing movies) silent because we don’t know what to say. Those in between moments are what solidify our relationships. They are the measure of what we’re made of. How we react after the big moments are gone. Nestled on the couch over a Netflix marathon or doing the dishes or making time each other – those are the cement.

Mackler’s novel follows five teens from the time they enter high school to their graduation. Five mostly regular kids, each with their own big moments and many more small moments. The kids meet on the first day of grade nine, assigned to the same group and tasked with coming up with a freshman project. Their group decides each person will write a letter to their future self and meet again on graduation day to read the letters. And from their they go on with their lives.  Continue reading

Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Damage Done is right. Damage to my time and my reading sensibilities and my respect for YA literature. I have got to stop picking books from generic lists of ‘awesome books’. But when I saw Damage Done on one of these lists, I was immediately attracted to the simple cover and the idea of a Gone Girl style YA book. And there’s something about a book on a subject as gutwrenching as school shootings that’s meant to be read by an audience that is the age of the typical victims that’s intriguing. A book that challenges our treatment, not of the perpetrators of such crimes but of the people related to them. That shows how those people treat themselves. How we are coloured by the actions of the people in our inner circle. That’s the book I wanted to read. Panitch promises the story of Julia Vass in the aftermath of her twin brother’s mass shooting at their high school. A shooting in which she, and he, were the only survivors. But what we get is a mildly ridiculous love story where the shooting feels a like little more than a plot device.

Julia is now Lucy Black. In a new town, with a new name, and a new past. Her family relocated to escape the nightmare of media and threats that became their lives after Ryan killed eleven students. They run from the blame. Julia/Lucy’s parents were easily the most interesting part of the novel. Their reactions to the shooting were heartbreaking. Even though we don’t see them often, we see the impact of their withdrawal. The Blacks have essentially cut off all interactions with their daughter. They refuse to talk about Ryan at all. All pictures and memories have been removed from the house, left behind when they moved. Lucy has only one picture left. Hidden in the back of a drawer away from her mother’s cleaning hands. Mrs. Black has irised her life into cleaning. All she does is scrub. Bleach and scrub. A physical manifestation of her need to remove the memories of her child. Mr. Black is mostly absent. He allows his work to take him away from his wife and daughter. And he refuses, absolutely refuses, to allow Ryan’s name in the house. Any reference to their life as the Vasses is met with an immediate shut down. At least it is when Lucy wants to talk about their past.

Turns out (and from here you continue at your own peril) there’s been more Ryan discussion happening than Julia/Lucy thought. Ryan’s been out of his coma almost since he went into it. He’s awake. He’s semi-healthy. He’s not talking to anyone except Spence – his former psychologist. Julia’s parents know. They’ve made a conscious decision not to tell her. If you haven’t predicted the upcoming twist by the time this information appears, it seems a little cruel, but also makes sense. Why would they tell her that her twin is awake when she’s never going to be allowed to see him? They’re protecting her from more pain. If they keep his condition quiet, they save their family more pain. But there’s more to their silence than initially thought. Julia isn’t the girl she’s led us to believe she is. Continue reading

Boring Girls by Sara Taylor

I found this book the old fashioned way – wandering the bookstore looking for nothing in particular. There it was, sitting on an endcap among a bunch of other books touting strong female protagonists. Something about it drew me in. I’d already picked up more books than I had planned that day, so I tossed this one on my library list and waited. It came in just in time for vacation. A trip to the mountains in the autumn – a perfect time for a dark book about dark music. I really wasn’t sure what this book was even about from the synopsis, except heavy metal. So, when I started the book and the first paragraph was one of the best openings I’ve ever read, I was excited. It was so compelling that I immediately read it aloud to my friend. She had the same reaction. I began to devour it. I had eight days of vacation. That was plenty of time to finish this book. And for the first third of the book, I was mostly sold.

I understood this girl. Not her metal inclinations, but her feeling of not fitting in. She was a girl in a smallish town that couldn’t really find her footing. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she knew it wasn’t what the people around her were offering. She had no exposure to the media she would eventually connect to, so she floundered. And then one day, by accident, she hears the music. Those dulcet tones of screaming and playing hard. I don’t get it. It’s never been my kind of music, but for Rachel, it was the thing that gave her direction. Here she found an outlet for her emotions. She channeled her anger and inability to fit in into these lyrics. She no longer cared about the typical way because she had found her way. She found her way in the pounding beats and violent imagery. In her early exploration, she channeled these feelings into graphic, angry poetry. It makes sense for a girl of fifteen with no other outlet.

She does what many young girls do – finds a pop culture icon she can connect to and becomes obsessed with it. For Rachel it’s more than just the music. It’s the scene and the bands. Especially this band called DED and its lead singer. She fantasizes about their future together. About meeting and falling madly in love. This is not abnormal for teens. Obsession is part of that whole brain development thing. As adults we look back with embarrassment and are thankful that most of us are too nervous/shy to act on those obsessions. Rachel is not that girl. At least not after she meets Fern. Continue reading

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff (@brennayovanoff)

You know how sometimes you see a book on the bargain table at the local branch of your big name bookstore chain and it’s like $4.99 (in Canada that’s a deal) and has a compelling cover. And you already have a giant TBR stack, but you just can’t help yourself and you buy it anyway. And then you take it home and put it on the shelf and totally forget about it? Yeah, that’s what happened to me with The Replacement. But then I ended up reading a couple of Yovanoff’s other books (also picked up because of the cover – she’s got gorgeous covers guys), and absolutely loving them. That’s when I remembered that this book was sitting on my shelf. So, I put it on my TBR where it promptly got set aside again for my ridiculous library compulsion. But the other day, I was sorting through my dud pile of library books (seriously, nothing I’d signed out was worth reading) and decided it was time to tackle my own shelf. I finally, finally picked up The Replacement. It was the right choice. I probably could have powered through it in a day, but it’s been hot like the sun here so my reading was dispersed between chunks of trying to cool off and doing other things to distract me from the heat.

Honestly, the damp, dreary setting of the book kind of helped distract from the crazy heat. The world in which the book is set is beautiful. Dark and chilling and beautiful. Now, I’m aware Yovanoff’s writing is divisive. She has a very distinct, minimalist style that people seem to either love or hate. I love it. I like that there isn’t a lot of fooferah, and yet we still get all the things we need to know. Exactly the right amount of description to make the world real but still allow us to fill in the details for ourselves. It’s like the perfect scary movie. They never give you too much. The unseen is the most unsettling. I could absolutely picture Gentry in my mind. I could walk the streets with Mackie as he tries to figure out what is happening to his life.
Continue reading