My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publication Date: March 15th 2015
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Point of View: 1st Person & Feminine
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Contemporary, Abuse, Sports, Friendship
“I love you,” Polly says suddenly when I’m almost to the door.
“I know,” I say.
Hermione Winters has been a flyer. She’s been captain of her cheerleading team. The envied girlfriend and the undisputed queen of her school. Now it’s her last year and those days and those labels are fading fast. In a few months she’ll be a different person. She thinks she’s ready for whatever comes next.
But then someone puts something in her drink at a party, and in an instant she finds herself wearing new labels, ones she never imagined:
Victim. Survivor. That raped girl.
Even though this was never the future she imagined, one essential thing remains unchanged: Hermione can still call herself Polly Olivier’s best friend, and that may be the truest label of all.
Heartbreaking and empowering, Exit, Pursued by a Bear is the story of transcendent friendship in the face of trauma.
“I love you,” I say, because I really, really do.
“I know,” says Polly.
‘‘It’s cheer camp. What’s the worst that could happen?’’
TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
E.K. Johnston, I thank you for writing Exit, Pursued by a Bear. I am genuinely pleased by its publication, because this is a book that needs to be read. Contrary to many stories broaching the subject of abuse, Johnston’s novel focuses less on the hurting – the ugly part – and more on the convalescence.
Every summer, cheerleader Hermione Winters and her team spend two weeks at camp Manitouwabing. They train, they cheer and they create links with other fellow pom-pom dancers. Hermione graduates this year, meaning that this will be her last year as a cheer captain. She intends to make the most of it.
All is well at camp: the practice is good – they dance, they sweat and they laugh – until the party arrives. Everyone is excited. The girls put their formal attire on and are ready to shake the floor. But not long after Hermione presents herself to the dance, a boy drugs her and then rapes her.
She does not remember any of it.
Hermione Winters is not the clichéd cheerleader who only pays attention to her hair, makeup, body or boyfriend. She has plans, hopes and dreams. She’s an excellent student, a fair leader and an inspiration to us all. When she learns about the rape, she does not immediately break apart. Her schoolmates go wild when the news reaches their ears, but – supported by her family and friends – she keeps her chin high.
Of course she is repulsed by what happened to her and wishes she could ‘‘pull [her] skin off and grind it into the floor,’’ but she is definitely not ‘‘hanging on by a thread.’’ This story is hopeful. And realistic. It does demonstrate how abuse can take its toll on a person, but also how the presence of loved ones and counsel from psychiatrists and doctors can help a victim fight the physical and mental after-effects of being raped.
I judiciously choose my heartbreaking reads. I need them to be honest, raw and accurate, as well as powerful, engaging and optimistic. Yes, I want and expect them to twist my guts, but I need them to leave a favourable message, too. Rape can shatter a person. However, with time, one can mend the splintered pieces. I need to receive this type of message from books with dark, emotional themes.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear does a wonderful job at providing us with that kind of salient message.