When I received these two books, one alternate history (My Lady Jane), and the other realistic fiction (Exit, Pursued by a Bear), I thought my choice would be easy. Why you ask? Because as a former history major, I LOATHE alternate history. Instead, I found myself drawn into both stories and cheering for both of the strong as hell female protagonists. Let’s dive in…
My Lady Jane takes place in an alternate 16th century England about Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine days after the death of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII (the one with all the wives), then gets her head chopped off by Queen Mary aka Bloody Mary. This is Jane’s story, or as the authors put it, “how Jane’s story should have gone.” Take everything you think you know about the British succession of power and throw it out the window. I’m actually surprised the narrators didn’t add that in there, since they consistently break the fourth wall and narrate directly to the reader with asides about historical liberties, vampires, and more, which just adds to the humor and charm of the story.
Why vampires, you ask? Well, not to spoil too much, but let’s just say that there are shapeshifters involved in this version of British history (don’t worry, it’s super light on the vampires, though). But did you know Henry VIII could shapeshift into a lion? This was a wonderful, fantastical, comedic take on British history that made me laugh out loud and cheer for Jane and her two cohorts, her husband Gifford and cousin King Edward VII, who we also follow along on their adventures to reclaim the throne from Mary. Jane is a book nerd at heart and never wanted to be queen, but won’t let anyone take advantage of her- a true feminist ahead of her time.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a story that makes your heart ache. Popular Canadian teen Hermione Winters is drugged and raped at cheerleading camp. But she doesn’t let her rape and aftermath consume her entire life, even though new revelations keep coming back to haunt her. This book powerfully describes Hermione’s trauma and the reactions from the people around her as she lives her life post-rape while seeking answers about that night. Hermione doesn’t take any prisoners and she refuses to be anyone’s victim. This is a heart-wrenching read as Hermione struggles to overcome her rape, find justice, and become the person she was before.
What I found most enduring and intriguing about Exit Pursued By a Bear was the shattering of stereotypes. Hermione is a likable popular cheerleader who is attacked. As she notes in the book, that simply doesn’t happen: the cheerleader and the girl who gets knocked up are not the same person. There was compassion and empathy from so many supporting characters, including parents and church figures. Spoiler alert: She also chooses to have an abortion after becoming pregnant from her rapist, and isn’t ashamed or shamed by others. These are standout characteristics for me and I feel that the different ways that people overcome rape and trauma can never be highlighted enough in YA literature.
The juxtaposition of these two stories made it incredibly difficult for me to choose a winner. However, I was forced to choose and the winner to move on to the next round is My Lady Jane for originality of the plot, humor, and wit. My Lady Jane appeals to a wide variety of teen interests and genres- historical, paranormal, humor, romance, and more, with something for everyone. It made me want to read beyond the original text and research more information about Lady Jane’s rise to power and reign (minus the shapeshifting abilities), which is a hallmark of a great book for me. The combination of the three exceptional YA authors (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows) makes this a huge draw for teens and their voices work together seamlessly in this alternate version of history.
“Armies aren’t very good about carrying libraries with them. I can’t imagine why. We’d fight so much less if everyone would just sit down and read.” – My Lady Jane
“I didn’t used to overthink my choices quite so much. Then someone made what I’ve always been told is a very important choice for me, and now I tend to overthink everything else.” – Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Katie LaMantia is a Teen Librarian at Schaumburg Township District Library. She is a pop culture and trivia nerd who also enjoys smashing the patriarchy and reading YA lit in her spare time.