EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR
By E.K. Johnston
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (March 15, 2016)
“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.
Exit, Pursued By a Bear started off calmly. The first 45-ish pages helped add some early development for the characters and I was able to get a feel for their personalities. For one thing, Hermione's love for cheerleading and dedication to her team was apparent. There was an early look at her and Polly's strong friendship, too. I really liked seeing this "before" part of Hermione's life! It was so normal.
Until it wasn't.
The book became so heartbreaking when Hermione was raped. (It happened off page, so there's scene depicting the assault.) I cried with the characters! The first hospital scene was a stark contrast to the first part of the book, which was kinda the point. Normalcy can be yanked away at any moment and you have to work your way back to a new sense of normal. And not just for one person. This book showed how deeply people are affected by rape--not just the person that was assaulted, but parents, friends, classmates, police officers, nurses, and many more. This seems like a no duh sort of thing because of course it does, but I really liked how the book showed this. A lot of people's reactions as well as Hermione's reactions to those were showcased. More than just the core group of characters reacted. Sometimes it was a small reaction, but nevertheless, it added something extra to the story.
Hermione received a ton of support. It was amazing! She was surrounded by it! As the author wrote in a note, "This is not standard procedure. Many rape victims are isolated, unable to ask for the help they need much less receive it." The fact that Hermione wasn't highlighted makes the story even more important to me. I've noticed the isolation that characters have felt in other books and it's nice to read a book that focuses so much on support. It's important to read stories where characters felt isolated, were surrounded by support, and everything in between.
All that support wasn't the only thing that made this book a positive one (despite the heartbreaking scenes). Religion was touched on. There was a LGBT element. Abortion and options were also highlighted in a very positive way. AND THERAPY. There was an openness and willingness to it that was refreshing to see. The cheerleading focus added even more positivity since it was such a big part of Hermione's life and the story. I was really happy with how much good I found in this book. Even though it is heartbreaking, all the positivity made it heartwarming as well.
My only complaint is that I wish I learned more about the supporting characters. The book would've felt more full if they stood out more. I don't have much to say about them! Polly and Hermione were GREAT, though. I loved how Hermione confronted people about their reactions to her. And Polly is just plain awesome. Not only was she always there for Hermione, but because she had a great personality. I really loved their friendship! It did change a little, but that was because it was their senior year and that happens. It stayed strong, though.
Overall, Exit, Pursued By a Bear was a positive story about the amazing support you can find from friends and family that surround you. Yes, it's also about sexual assault, but support, love, friendship, growth, and healing all had a larger emphasis. I loved this one and I highly recommend reading it! 4.5 pieces!