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

IMG_0099Hermione is at the top of the high school food chain. She’s popular, she’s dating one of the hottest guys in grade 12, and she’s a cheerleader. And in a small town where the sports teams repeatedly lose, cheerleading is a big deal. She’s ready to have the best senior year ever, until someone slips something in her drink at camp. The next thing she knows she’s waking up in a hospital bed and her best friend delivers the bad news–she was raped. Now Hermione has a new label. Instead of “queen bee” or “cheerleader co-captain” she’s “that raped girl”. And in a small town, that’s a label that’s going to stick.

This is not my typical book. I usually steer clear of anything that deals with tough issues that are going to make me sad. I appreciate that that kind of thing is available, but I am not usually in the mood to read that kind of thing. That being said, this book felt too important to pass up. This is not like anything I’ve ever had to deal with, but Johnston does such a good job making Hermione likable and it almost feels like her group of friends is also your group of friends too.

I loved that Johnston made this story feel real. It could be really easy to have characters react in predictably Hollywood ways, but I feel like each character had a raw and honest reaction to Hermione’s sexual assault including Hermione herself. I love that she had so many supporting people surrounding her from her parents, to her best friend Polly, to her teammates, to her coach. In an author’s note at the end, Johnston recognizes that in this way she did write about an ideal situation where the victim has a lot of support and cooperative and respectful police officers involved in the investigation–she notes that this is not usually the case. However, she does say that she purposefully gave Hermione a Polly (who is AWESOME by the way) and that she believes there is a Polly out there for all victims of sexual assault.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book but just be conscious that it deals with a really heavy topic and may not be suitable for younger readers. That being said, the relationship between Hermione and Polly is one of the best I’ve ever read and in the end the main feeling I get from this book isn’t sadness, but triumph.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate. A couple of scenes with brief, strong language.
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Violence: Mild
Sexual Content: Heavy. Due to the overall subject matter, but not explicit.

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King [ARC]

Stanzi is two people in one. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter. China Knowles has swallowed herself. Lansdale Cruise can’t stop lying and so her hair grows and grows. There is a dangerous man in a bush, multiple bomb threats, and an adventure to a land of geniuses.23203744

Oh gosh…this book is pretty indescribable, but I’ll try anyway. First, I LOVE THE COVER. It’s so simple and I was immediately drawn to it. I can honestly say that I have never read a book like this. I’ve seen it described as surrealist fiction and that’s really the best word to describe this book: surreal. It’s hard to determine what the rules of this world are. On the surface, it looks exactly like our world, but things keep happening that make me go, “Wait…is this real? Or is it a character’s imagination?” The whole time I wasn’t exactly sure what was true and was fake. Did China really swallow herself? Or was this just a representation of how she feels? But then Stanzi mentions being able to see China digesting…and don’t even get me started on that helicopter. Is it really invisible? Why can some people see it every day but Stanzi can only see it on Tuesdays and China and Lansdale can’t see it at all? I have so many questions!

Even though this book left me slightly confused, I still really enjoyed it. I really liked the short chapters and the overall tone of the book. The narration switched between a few different characters, and I found myself enjoying each voice. The short chapters helped the story to feel fast-paced. I kept telling myself I had time to read just one more chapter before bed. Next thing I know, it’s 30 minutes past my bedtime! The characters were all really interesting. Even though they had some surreal qualities, they all seemed more or less real. They struggled with real things, had real emotions, and talked in a real way.

The surreal aspects of this story were pretty playful, but at the same time a lot of the subject matter was actually pretty serious. These characters had to deal with divorced parents, rape, and another thing that I won’t reveal because I don’t want to spoil anyone. I’ll just say that it’s a SERIOUS thing. This is the first book that I’ve read by A.S. King, but I’ll definitely be looking into more of her books!

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Sexual Content: Heavy. Nothing happens “on-screen”, but there are brief references throughout. One secondary character is mentioned to be “the neighborhood dominatrix”.
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Happy Hour Choir by Sally Kilpatrick [ARC]

Beulah Land (like the hymn) got pregnant at 16–to the dismay of her mother and preacher father–and sensing that she was unwelcome at home, moved in with her piano teacher Ginger Belmont. Beulah had been living with Ginger for nine years when Luke Daniels (Preacher Man) comes to town. Her life had been going well, she worked at the local bar playing piano and she took care of Ginger. When Ginger’s cancer comes out of remission, she has one request for Beulah–to take her place as the church pianist. Beulah’s hesitant to return to church where she was so severely ostracized less than ten years before, but she does as Ginger asks. Over time she comes to learn some new things about herself, Ginger, and the people in her small town.51UHxLcC3kL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The book started out kind of shaky for me. It was very hard to tell how old Beulah was until she stated her age. The tone of the book makes her sound really immature throughout (she sounded like a teenager to me). This was mildly annoying at first, but then once we really got into her past, I felt like a lot of things had happened that should have made her seem older than she was, more mature. The fact that she complained and acted like a teenager was distracting and made me not like her as a character.

I liked the other characters okay. The book deals with some pretty deep issues, which I wasn’t expecting, and that brought some meat to the book, but the characters were too shallow to really round out the plot. I just feel like this book was mostly a missed opportunity. Tough topics include sexual abuse, rape, cancer, and dealing with loss.

I feel kind of bad because this is the third NetGalley book that I’ve reviewed and I haven’t really liked any of what I’ve read so far. But I definitely don’t want to give a dishonest opinion. With that being said, I’m pretty excited for the next two ARCs I have lined up. They seem promising. If you’re still interested in this book despite my review, it comes out April 28th and you can pre-order it HERE.

Overall Rating: 2
Violence: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate (see tough topics listed above)
Language: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy. Beulah works in a bar so a lot of scenes are set there with people drinking.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.