Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Publication Date: March 15th, 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Books USA
Hermione Winters is the star co-captain of her high school’s cheer-leading team. Her teammates loves her, she has a hot boyfriend, and she’s going places. When her team attends a cheer camp the summer before her senior year of high school, Hermione’s fall as just began. One night at a dance, someone slips something into her drink and she wakes up to find out that she’d been drugged and raped. Hermione faces tough decisions about moving forward and how to face the changes that are coming her way…
About 50% through this novel, I began to get bored. “Nothing’s happening,” I whined to no one in particular. “It’s just about her cheer-leading and high school experiences.” I had gone into this novel expecting to encounter a teen mystery-thriller about a girl who’s mission is to out her rapist. Yet I soon realized that my preconceived notions regarding a novel about rape were, quite frankly, wrong. How dare I expect a salacious drama about a teen who has just been raped? That is when I realized that the whole point of Exit, Pursued by a Bear was exactly that; survivors of rape and sexual abuse are not victims that exist under a cloud of drama and negativity. This novel opened my eyes to my own prejudices in a way that I never saw coming.
Hermione Winters is a co-captain of her high school cheer-leading squad. She’s the reigning queen and everyone loves her. But one night at a party, someone slips something into her drink and the world goes black. When she wakes up in the nurse’s office, she realizes that she had been drugged and raped. Yet, Hermione is surrounded by strong support systems; her best friend goes to great lengths to cope with Hermione, her parents are supportive and loving, and even her coach and teammates are there for her and help her in whatever way she needs. Hermione recognizes the trauma that her body has experienced, but cannot and will not let it define her last year of high school, or the rest of her life. She never uses the word “victim” and she pushes forward with her life. What I found most incredible was how she always seemed to know her next step. When life continued to throw challenges her way, she made a plan and carried it out. I was shocked at how well-adjusted she became.
Yet, I kept hoping for a resolution for Hermione. It is human nature to seek out justice in the world and in our lives, and I couldn’t help wanting Hermione’s rapist to be revealed. I simply cannot say anything more about this particular aspect, but the ending surprised me and it felt so right.
As far as this novel being a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, I’m not entirely sure that I can make that connection myself. Certain characters are namesakes for their representatives in Shakespeare’s play (Hermione also being Hermione in the play), but the only real plot aspect that Johnston borrowed was that of a Queen becoming pregnant and accused of adultery by her husband. Hermione only briefly encounters people who accuse her of “asking for it,” and her boyfriend, Leo (King Leontes in the play), does seem to imply that he believes this as well. But other than that, Johnston pretty much wrote her own story around Hermione’s conflict.
Overall, this is an incredibly strong story about a girl who encounters difficult circumstances but refuses to let them define her. Hermione makes a conscious choice to truly live and accept change as it comes.
Thanks to Edelweiss for the digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.