Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Exit, Pursued By A Bear - E.K. Johnston

Title: Exit, Pursued By A Bear
Author: E. K. Johnston
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 243 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: June 9, 2016
Finished: June 14, 2016

From the inside cover:

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 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 saw the title and was immediately drawn to this book, then I read the summary and knew I had to read it. Then upon reading it, I discovered the author is Canadian and the story takes place in Southern Ontario where I live, and love the book just that much more.

Hermione is the captain of her well-renowned cheerleading team in her small town. When she and her team arrive at the same cheerleading camp they have attended for the past few years in late summer north of Barrie, they are expecting the usual things: friendly competition between cabins, pep talks, and grueling training. They didn't expect for Hermione to be slipped date rape drugs and raped. In the aftermath of the rape, Hermione is faced with returning to school, how to function after a trauma she doesn't remember experiencing, and how outsiders view the incident as her fault rather than her rapist's.

I loved how the author approached a really difficult subject. Hermione has a lot of support both in the immediate aftermath of the incident and up to a year later: her coach, her friends, her parents, her teachers, her therapist, the police officer in charge of her case, and the hospital and clinic staff. It was a really overall positive portrayal of the aftermath of an experience that most victims do not always have. Polly is a friend that most readers would kill to have, and I think that is the key element in the outcome of Hermione's story, that she has such a fierce advocate in her best friend that can help her weather the rumours and breakups and panic attacks. I particularly enjoyed that the author did make Hermione and Polly have a confrontation with a reporter who makes a comment about "things she could've done to prevent this," and the girls immediately address the inherent sexism in the comment, replying "if I was a boy would you be asking me that?"

The fact that the story takes place locally made me smile. The camp the cheerleading team goes to is in an area I've personally visited, and all the Ontario universities (including both the ones I attended) are mentioned when the characters are deciding which schools to attend after graduation. The local aspect of the story is just an added bonus to an excellent book.

An excellent book on a delicate subject that's actually explored thoughtfully and positively.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very fitting and dynamic cover.

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