Publication: March 15th 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books
Pages: 248 pages
Genre: Fiction, YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Canadian Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤⛤
“You can’t fix something that doesn’t know it’s broken,” (Johnston 81).
TW: Rape/Date Rape.
This book is heartbreaking, but it’s also hopeful. Johnston packs a lot into a tiny book, her specialty, creating a story full of trauma and love and connection that is necessary on everyone’s bookshelves.
Hermione Winters is a cheerleader and as a senior this is her last cheer camp. She looks forward to connecting with her teammates and planning the upcoming school year with her team and co-captain a.k.a. best friend Polly, as well as enjoying all that her last cheer camp has to offer. But on the last day of camp someone puts something in Hermione’s drink at a party, and she is raped.
Hermione’s story is not the typical rape survivor narrative. She is not consumed with the sexual assault that happened to her because she can’t remember it. And she doesn’t have some defining moment where her life changes and she is cured of any fear she has. Hermione is trying to piece together what happened to her and how to integrate herself back into her small town and high school where everyone knows what happened to her. She refuses to be a girl pitied by her town, a girl seen only for the sexual assault that happened to her. Hermione Winters is Hermione Winters, and she is adjusting to the new normal that is her life.
This book was incredibly hard to read at times. Hermione’s trauma and her adjustment back into school as she tries to figure out who she is not after what happened is so hard to read, but reading Polly’s love for her, as well as her parents and teammates support, is so beautiful. It’s sad, it’s beautiful, and that’s the story. It’s overcoming something traumatic and finding out how to live a new life, how to find the beauty and love in things that used to be easy.
Some reviewers have mentioned that this book is unrealistic, and I can understand what they’re talking about. After Hermione is raped, the police officer working her case treats her sympathetically and respectfully, as do her doctors. Her parents, teammates, and friends form an incredibly strong support group believing what happened to Hermione and ready to help and defend her if anyone disrespects her. And there are examples of people showing close minded views of rape culture (what to tell women to stop being raped, etc.) also present in the book, but they are challenged and shut down almost immediately. Yes, it’s unrealistic, but Johnston is showing us how we should be to survivors of sexual assault. We should support them, believe them, stand by their side as they fight for justice.
Johnston’s book is definitely necessary for a high school age group, as the book is YA and centres on teenagers, but all ages should read it. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a lesson in how to respect and support survivors of sexual assault, and it’s a book I will be returning to and recommending again and again and again.
Someone reading this may be a survivor of sexual assault or someone you know may be. I’m Canadian, so I’ve included links to resources in Canada and the U.S. survivors of sexual assault. If this affects you or someone you know but neither of the countries below are yours, please search your countries resources for relevant resources.