Exit, Pursued By A Bear – E.K Johnston – Dutton Books for Young Readers – Published 15 March 2016
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.
A beautiful, poignant and powerful story about a girl’s journey through the aftermath of sexual assault, and the way in which a community gathers around her with support and love. I have called other heroines strong, but none of them compare to Hermione. She is one amazing young lady. I love how she thinks, how she is logical and brave. She knows she needs the support of everyone around her and she isn’t afraid to lean upon them.
Exit, Pursued By A Bear starts by setting the scene after Hermione’s attack and then moves back to the time at Cheerleading Camp before it. It is both scary and dramatic watching the lead up, knowing something of what is about to unfold, trying to watch for clues and ultimately hurting for this vibrant young girl.
This truly differs from any other sexual assault novel that I have read before. Instead of struggling with speaking up or folding under the impact, Hermione is resolute in the face of being raped. She may not remember the details of what happened, but she knows that she will be no one’s pity case, nor will she allow this event to stop her from moving forward with her life. But, neither is she naive about the impact of her trauma. She knows she needs the support of all the people around her and she has no problem with relying on them or with removing herself from those who do not support her. This book truly shows, perhaps what one might call, an exemplar response to a sexual assault. Considerate police response, consummate health care, understanding and loving parents, the best best-friend a girl could ask for, friends and teammates who do whatever they can to help, and a therapist that is both helpful, professional and challenges all those stereotypes that are so often portrayed in literature. And while many survivors of sexual assault are not fortunate to have the support system that Hermione does, it is refreshing to read a novel that structures it as such.
But this novel does not ignore the unfortunate but all too common responses to sexual assault, victim blaming for example. It also throws in some other topical issues, such as teen pregnancy, faith, abortion, sporting teams, homosexuality, teenage relationships, and that coming-of-age time of preparing to leave school and move on to university. I love too, the cheerleaders in this book. There is not a single, ditzy, air-headed stereotype in sight. These cheerleaders, both male and female, are both elite athletes and dedicated academics.
This novel surely cements E.K Johnston as a powerful and diverse writer. Exit, Pursued By A Bear deserves a place on every library shelf and is a must-read for those who love strong, moving contemporary YA novels.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Friendship, family, sexual assault, social themes, cheerleading, athletes, sport teams, college, rape, pregnancy
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Mature themes, references to rape. Coarse language, f***, s***.
Published: 15 March 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook. 248 pages.