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

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

All The Rage by Courtney Summers (@courtney_s)

I finished reading All the Rage a few weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about how to review it since I flipped the last page. Summers’ books always give me all the feels, but when I was done this one, I wasn’t 100% sure what I thought. It wasn’t that I disliked it. Not at all. I knew I liked it quite a bit. I knew I would be buying a copy to go on my shelf. But I couldn’t put my finger on how the book made me feel. So I’ve been thinking about it, and the more I do, the more I think I understand why. It’s because no one in the book really knows what they feel either. Every character is so buried under layers of self-preservation that they’ve lost sight of what drives them.

That and the fact that the book blurb sets up the wrong expectations for the reader. It sets you up for a girl who wants to talk. A girl like Regina or Parker (Some Girls Are/Cracked Up to Be). Girls who do not give two shits what anyone else thinks. Who are in your face assholes (and I mean this in the best way, I love both of these characters). You expect Romy to have that kind of conviction. Even if she isn’t going to say anything about the rape, you know she’s going to be raging on the inside. We’ve got rage in the title. But that’s not Romy. That’s not what this is about. It’s not that kind of rage. This is All the Rage in the bandwagon sense. The blurb also sets us up to believe that Kellen has a pretty big role in this novel. But I don’t think he appears even once. And if he does, it’s so brief I can’t exactly remember it. What we should have been prepared for is what happens when you fuck with someone’s family. What we should have been prepared for is what happens when no one believes you – even when you’re telling the truth. What we should have been prepared for is being drowned in our own self-loathing. Continue reading

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers (@courtney_s )

I love a lot of things about Courtney Summers’ books, but one of the things I love the most is her titles. They’re usually phrases, or portions of, that trigger immediate recognition. Titles that sort of set up the journey you’re about to experience. This is Not a Test was serious and challenging with no turning back. Crack Up to Be lets you know that this isn’t going to be the story you think, or possibly want it to be. Some Girls Are also sets the tone for the novel. You know, just know, that you’re going to encounter characters in this novel that you are not going to like. There’s no way this phrase is going to be Some Girls are Awesome. Or Some Girls are Super friendly. This is going to be a book about those girls who just are. They are everything on the spectrum – to the extreme. Some girls are the best and the worst. It’s the only way they know how to exist. Other girls are just trying to figure what they are so that they can exist.

Summers captures these girls perfectly. Especially the girls that embody all the best qualities in order to hide how awful they truly are. Anna is the ring leader. The girl who everyone wants to be. That every guy wants to bang. That everyone hates – even her friends. Anna is terrible. Absolutely terrible. She possesses this pseudo confidence hoisted on her by people that think she deserves it. But internally, eventually, she’s going to realize that what she is is fake. She makes herself feel better by making everyone else around her feel terrible. Props herself up on the shoulders of the people she destroys. She does this by using her number two. This has always been Regina. And Regina has really enjoyed her role. In a way. She’s always just done it. She’s tortured the girls who needed to lose weight until they developed eating disorders. Boys who reject Anna until they’re social pariahs. She’s driven former friends so far down that they’ve attempted suicide. And she’s done it all because Anna told her to, and you don’t question Anna. Even when you know she’s wrong. But now, now Regina has fucked up. And she’s got to pay for it. And this is where the novel turns dark. Into something more than just a mean girls novel. Continue reading