I’m so excited to be sharing my Sunday with E.K. Johnston today to discuss her incredible book, “Exit, Pursued by a Bear.“ The MomAdvice Book Club will be tackling this in our April discussion so I am hoping today’s interview will encourage you to pick it up and join us for a great discussion about this beautiful book in April.
Exit, Pursued By a Bear, packs a coming-of-age punch as it examines the story of a rape and the aftermath for its victim.
Hermione is a flyer on her cheer squad and proud to be their captain. While away at cheer camp, she attends a party where someone puts something in her drink and she is brutally raped and assaulted. When she awakes, she has no recollection of what has happened to her, but must deal with the devastating consequences of this assault.
I love that this book focuses less on being a victim and more about continuing to fight through the pain, not allowing this horrible situation to continue to define your life. Hermione is a true hero as she picks up the pieces of her life and is determined to carry on.
Heavier than a typical YA read and filled with a supportive cast of characters, Johnston deserves all the accolades she has received for this one including being listed as a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize.
Brave and unflinching, it’s a beautiful, beautiful read!
Grab your coffee and let’s chat about this brave book from E.K. Johnston.
Readers might not know that this book was inspired by Shakespeare’s, The Winter’s Tale. What was it about this work that made you want to retell it? What elements were the most important to you in Shakespeare’s work that you wanted to keep as elements in your own story?
Most scholars will tell you that The Winter’s Tale is the story of two boys-grown-to-men who find that friendship is a fragile construct and disillusionment is the price of adulthood. I respectfully disagree. For me, from my very early days of reading Shakespeare (the Charles and Mary Lamb prose edition), the play was about the friendship between two women: Hermione and Paulina, who loved one another more than they loved their husbands (with good reason). I loved Paulina’s steadfastness and her cleverness, faking Hermione’s death and concealing her in the king’s own castle for more than a decade and half, and I loved Hermione’s resilience and ability to survive utter betrayal from someone she trusted.
Furthermore, Hermione is persecuted by her husband for (falsely) perceived infidelity. He manipulates her actions and his own mind until he can blame her for something she is absolutely innocent of. I chose to update this as garden-variety slut-shaming in Exit, because we tend to back girls into corners and then treat them terribly for existing in the first place.
Also, I just really wanted to use the title: Exit, Pursued By A Bear.
Your fury over a Canadian Member of Parliament who was trying to recriminalize abortion also moved you to write this book. What do you hope the reader will walk away with after reading Hermione’s story?
I have two hopes for all readers of Exit, Pursued By A Bear.
- That they will believe women. Women. and,
- That they will trust women to make their own choices, particularly when it comes to bodily autonomy.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear has garnered so many awards and accolades including an NPR Best Book of 2016, Booklist Best Book of 2016, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016, and so many more. Were you surprised by the response to this book especially since you were tackling such brave topics, particularly for the YA genre? What has been your favorite accolade so far?
YA has an extensive legacy of tackling amazing and brave topics, so I am both thrilled and honoured to see Exit join those ranks. If I may be indulgent, I was most pleased by Exit’s nomination to the Ontario White Pine list, which is a reading award program in Ontario high schools. I get to meet so many amazing students, many of them from places mentioned in the book itself, and that’s incredible.
You have shared that in your book, you imagined a world where a girl is believed and supported; a world where adults do their jobs and children are gracious; a world where a bear of a girl can heal, and then save herself. And it’s the most unbelievable thing you had ever done, even as a writer of fantasy. Why did you decide to tell your story in this way?
When I was at university for my MSc, I went to a conference and at the end of two days of people talking about bombings and logistics and mass excavations, a woman from the London Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory got up to talk to us about digital evidence collection. She was describing transmitting a fingerprint via a cell phone, and said the words “like on CSI”. There was general sighs and groans in the audience, and then she straightened and said “No, it’s a good example. Those shows tell us what we’re capable of. Where we should be trying to go.”
I was used to thinking like that about Star Trek, but it had never occurred to me that CSI might be similar. It’s an approach I tried to take when I was still studying forensics myself: this is how it should be, and that’s the approach I wanted to take with Exit.
This is how it should be.
In the author’s note, you encourage teens to find a champion in their life, as Hermione has found Polly. Who was a champion to you, in your life, and how do you think having that impacted you?
I am lucky enough to have two: Colleen, who I met in high school thanks to the seating arrangement and a pair lightsaber pens, and Emma, who I met in 2008 thanks to livejournal, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and the Naboo Handmaidens.
Since you typically write fantasy, has writing this book given you encouragement to write more YA contemporary?
I write YA all the time. The great thing about YA is that you can write almost anything, and as long as it’s about a teenager, you’re set. So I’ve done contemporary fantasy, fairy-tale re-imaginings, sci-fi, and epic fantasy, as well as several combinations thereof. I don’t know if I’ll go back to YA contemporary, but I never say never in publishing.
Can you tell us a little about That Inevitable Victorian Thing that you have coming out in October and what else you are working on?
That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a YA near-future sci-fi. It’s a stubbornly utopi-ish vision of an alternate universe where the sun never set on the British Empire, and where a princess in disguise, a lumberjack with money problems, and a reluctant debutante are about to step onto the world stage.
I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
*This post contains affiliate links!