Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K Johnston
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genres: Contemporary, YA, Realistic Fiction
For Fans of: Veronica Mars, Strong heroines, well-written friendships and supporting characters, beautiful prose
My rating: 5 teary-eyed stars
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.
In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.
If nothing else, this book is proof that we all learned something different from Veronica Mars
TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
I cannot even begin to tell you how important this book is.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a novel about rape, and the aftermath of it – but not in the way you think. It could have very easily been a dense, gut-wrenchingly emotional book about the hurt, the suffering, and all the problems Hermione Winters had to endure after her assault. It could have. And, because E.K Johnston is a master of beautiful prose and pulling emotion off the page, it would have been beautiful.
But Johnston gave us something better.
This book is not about hurt. It does not chronicle Hermione Winter’s long struggle to cope with what happened to her. We do not see this heroine curled up on the floor of her bedroom, hating herself, hating her abuser, and ostracized by everyone she knows. No. This book shows us the importance of a support system.
The book follows a strong, steel-willed, brave heroine named Hermione Winters. Hermione, named after the Harry Potter character we all know and love (her Dad is a Potterhead), is a cheerleader. A popular, well-liked one at that. She is, by no means, the preppy, snobby, I’m-better-than-everyone-else cheerleader that you’d see in the movies. Hermione Winters is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the out.
Our story opens up with Hermione on her way to cheer camp. It’s their final year, she’s co-captain, and her entire squad is excited. Everything goes fine until, one night, Hermione gets drugged and raped at a party. When she wakes up, she doesn’t remember a thing.
I’m not going to go into detail about the things that happen after this point, because I absolutely don’t want to take anything away from the reading experience. What I will tell you is that Hermione is an honest-to-God inspiration. In the face of everything, she stood tall. When she felt disgusted and repulsed by what had happened to her, she allowed the people who cared about her to help her feel better. She did not let herself become ostracized or the subject of school gossip. She never let her rape define her.
And this is what I loved the most about this book. Exit, Pursued by a Bear (what a mouthful) is a beautiful, poignant tale about picking up the pieces and staying true to yourself. It does not make the rapist the focus. It does not make the rape the focus. Instead, what this novel chooses to shine a light on is the healing process, and the wonders a good support system can do.
There are going to be people who have issues with this book. Because it doesn’t talk about the horrors and the pains of being sexually assaulted. At least, it doesn’t let its heroine get consumed by it. But it’s a realistic tale of rape that is so rarely told. You are most likely to read a rape story about uncovering the rapist’s identity, or a story about a rape victim completely falling apart after their assault, a hundred times before you ever read a story like this one.
A novel that focuses on reclaiming strength after rape is a rare, rare thing, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear tackles this story in a subtle, yet powerful way. It’s not an easy book to read, I will admit, but it’s not very graphic, despite the incredibly heavy subject it tackles. So, if you think you can stomach it, I urge you to read this.