Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Published by Penguin on March 15th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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.
“I’m not going to quit, Florry.” I look up and see that Polly has turned around again, and that Caledon is looking at me in the mirror. “I am not going to quit.”
TRIGGER WARNING – RAPE.
I think some people will have issues with this book. I get that. I really do. But I also think the ultimate strength of Exit, Pursued by a Bear is that it is not a typical story about a girl who gets raped and is consumed by it. Those stories absolutely matter and they are oh so very important, but there are many different experiences out there and I’m glad this one is being told.
In my experience, stories about rape survivors fall into one of two categories: 1) a girl (occasionally, a boy) falling apart in the aftermath of rape, or 2) a mystery about the rapist’s identity. This is neither. Hermione is sad, confused and angry, but this is predominantly a book about strength.
Rape is a crime often about power and weakness – the rapist makes the victim powerless by taking away their choice – but here Hermione does something unusual. She reclaims the power stolen from her. She has a strong support system. She doesn’t become defined by what happened.
“I am constantly surprised, these days, at the creative ways by which people will avoid saying “you were raped.” Everyone’s broken where that word is concerned.”
Don’t get me wrong, Johnston portrays the brutal reality of slut-shaming and victim-blaming that often comes after sexual assault. And this story looks at a victim of date rape drugs and the particulars of those cases – the extra layer of helplessness at being unable to remember; to want to help the police solve the crime and just seeing blackness; to be afraid to go to sleep because of the loss of time and memory; and the ultimate horror – to not know who is responsible and where they are now.
But most rape stories are about the weakness and the pain; this one shows the weakness and the pain, and yet it is not really about them – it is about good girlfriends, supportive parents and strength.
It’s also about the people surrounding a rape survivor and how the crime comes to affect more than just the victim – the parents who weren’t there, the friends who didn’t notice that something was wrong – and I really liked that. It makes me feel quite emotional to imagine this group of people uniting against something horrific; the implication being that by giving our support to rape survivors, we are all reclaiming the stolen power. We are all beating the rapists together.
The author delivers a truly incredible ending, pulling all of this together and ending on an emotional high. Rape will always be disgusting, and sometimes it will damage and break its victims, but those of us surrounding them have a choice how we react to it. By offering compassion instead of blame, understanding instead of suspicion, maybe rape survivors will feel less like something irretrievable has been taken from them and less defined by what happened.
I'm Emily May - a twenty-something year old book blogger from the North of England. Currently going wherever the wind or the storyline takes me. Find me on Goodreads
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