Keep Me Posted!

Sign me up for the latest news from Penguin Teen, including new books, special offers, and promotions.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: SING Until Your Lungs Give Out, an essay by E.K. Johnston


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one of the books we’re using to start a conversation is Exit, Pursued by a Bear, which follows the difficult decision high schooler Hermione Winters faces after being assaulted at cheer camp. Today, author E.K. Johnston shares another story – this one her own – and an important message to remember.


(I was going to blog about something else for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but then the Jian Ghomeshi verdict came down—and was as disappointing as expected. So here I am, writing angry again. I’m so sick of being “timely.” I want Exit, Pursued by a Bear to be dated ASAP.)


I don’t tell this story to very many people (congrats, Internet. You’ll be persons five though a billion!).

The guy who assaulted me was singing when he did it.

I was perfect, of course. It was the middle of a room full of people. I had plenty of witnesses. They all heard me say “No,” and “Don’t,” and “Stop.” They didn’t know I had frozen completely. They only saw me when I thawed.

Meanwhile, I’d forgotten everything. I was bigger than him. I could have thrown my weight forward and got free of his hold. I didn’t do that. I stood there while he sang and wouldn’t move his hands. And then, finally, I snapped.

There’s a bit at the end of Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock has to improvise a talent at the last minute, and so she does a self-defense demonstration on Benjamin Bratt. I forgot almost all of that. I forgot the part where she tells you how to brace, how to pull, how to use your hip as a lever. But there’s one more thing after that.

He was singing. And I remembered how to sing.


Solar plexus (my elbow, as hard as I could, and he leaned back which gave me space to turn around.)

Instep (with my steel-toed boots. He let go. I could have stopped. I didn’t.)

N (as my knee was coming up, I realized that I’d forgotten what the N was, but it didn’t matter because)

Groin (he went down like a sack of bricks, and couldn’t even writhe on the floor.)


(N is for “nose”, btw. It’s probably for the best that I forgot. I would have broken his whole face.)

When I was throwing up in the bathroom a few moments later, I was furious with myself. I wasn’t mad because I’d hurt him (he couldn’t work the next day). I was mad because I had instinctively apologized.

(Did I over-react? Yes. Would I do it again? I REALLY WOULD. Though if I did it again, I would not apologize.)

There is a part of me in every book, in every character. I gave Hermione four-and-a-half minutes of self-doubt and loathing and no dignity or self-control, all set to a goddamn power ballad. She didn’t do what she was supposed to either. She didn’t scream.

But later, later, I let her remember how to sing. The good way. With her voice and her heart, and not with her knees and elbows and fingernails.

Because you don’t do what you’re supposed to. There is no “supposed to.” There’s a moment where you’re very, very scared, and sometimes the moment swallows you and sometimes you claw your way through it. What I want, more than I want almost anything else, is for there to be a person there who throws a rope. A person who cheers you on. A person who boosts you up. And then, when you are out of the hole, I want a whole freaking arena of people who believe you. No matter what you did when it happened.

I’d settle for a decent justice system.

Until then—and for as long as people call my novel “timely” —I will use my voice and I will use my knees, and I will sing.


Thank you for sharing, E.K.


Learn more about Exit, Pursued by a Bear.


Find more books to start the conversation with.















Dana Schwartz Shares 5 Things You Need to Know About AND WE’RE OFF!

Watch Dana Schwartz share 5 things you need to know about her book, And We’re Off!           Get your copy here!                                
See More

13 Life Lessons Learned From Sarah Dessen Novels

There’s nothing quite like reading a Sarah Dessen novel during summer, that magical time when the world always seems to be on the cusp of something beautiful or epic or heartbreaking—or maybe all three. Luckily, Sarah Dessen is always there to talk us through it with words that speak to some of life’s biggest truths. She’s taught … Continued
See More

Kerry Kletter Shares 5 Things You Need to Know About THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED

Watch Kerry Kletter, author of The First Time She Drowned, share 5 things you should know about her book!           Get your copy of The First Time She Drowned!                                
See More

Emily Barr Shares 5 Things You Need to Know About THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS

Watch Emily Barr, author of The One Memory of Flora Banks, shares 5 things you need to know about her book!               Get your copy here!                                
See More

The Fabulous Life of Renée Ahdieh

As dedicated book lovers, we want to know everything about our favorite authors. And, well, that sometimes leads to extreme social media stalking stalking. Such is the case with Renée Ahdieh, author of the The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. Her latest book, Flame in the Mist, is coming this May, so … Continued
See More

Cristina Moracho Shares the One Thing She Wishes She Knew as a Teen

Watch Cristina Moracho, author of A Good Idea, share the one thing she wishes she knew when she was a teenager.         Get your copy of A Good Idea!
See More

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Empathy, Always, an essay by Brandy Colbert

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one of the books we’re using to start a conversation is Pointe, which follows high school ballerina Theo’s struggle to reconcile secrets of her past with her dreams for the future when her best friend comes home four years after his kidnapping. Today, author Brandy Colbert shares another story – … Continued
See More

Can You Guess the Sarah Dessen Book From the Emojis?

Spring is best spent reading a Sarah Dessen love story. Test your knowledge of Sarah Dessen’s books with this emoji quiz!   Share your #ReadADessen recommendation for a chance to win a full set of Sarah Dessen Books!          
See More

Melissa de la Cruz Shares 5 Things You Need to Know About ALEX & ELIZA: A LOVE STORY!

Watch Melissa de la Cruz, author of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story, share the 5 things you need to know about her book!           Get your copy of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story!                                 … Continued
See More

Love, Death & Shakespeare: A SPEAK OF ME AS I AM Playlist by Sonia Belasco

Sometimes you read a book and think to yourself “I need the soundtrack of this.” Sometimes, you’re so lucky that the author creates one for you! Speak of Me as I Am by Sonia Belasco is a moving story of grief, honesty, and the healing power of art – the ties that bind us together, even when … Continued
See More

I can give you book recommendations.
Please enter your name and email address to begin chatting with me.

What is your date of birth?