The Compulsive Reader: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winters is at the top of her game: she's cheerleading co-captain with her best friend Polly, and they're about to have the best-ever cheer camp before launching their final season. Their team has been cursed for the past few years with losing a member, and Hermione is determined to break that curse through hard work and teamwork. But her carefully-constructed plans are derailed one night at camp, when something is slipped into her drink. She wakes up the next morning in the hospital, unable to remember the sexual assault that occurred after everything went black. In the weeks that follow, Hermione deals with the aftermath of the assault, resisting the stigma of being a victim while at the same time attempting to make peace with the fact that she may never know what happened that night.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a bold re-imaging of A Winter's Tale that takes an unflinching look at the aftermath of an assault and how Hermione forges ahead. The nature of the subject matter is emotional, enraging, heartbreaking, usually within the space of a page, but I have a fierce admiration for Johnston in that Hermione's story never once felt exploitative, and that it didn't gratuitously linger in the awfulness of what Hermione experienced. Hermione is tough and determined, but she doesn't muscle her way through this experience on her own. She has an incredible support system in her parents, her coach, her best friend Polly, and some of her cheerleading teammates. This network and how Hermione assembles her team of people to help get her through this--and her acknowledgement of her vulnerabilities and need for help is what makes her truly strong.

As much as this book is about the aftermath of a life-changing assault, it's also not. It's about growing up, being on the brink of something new and unseeable and scary and exciting, and it's about making decisions about an uncertain future. It's about learning learning to value your established relationships even as you grow into new ones. This is what makes Exit, Pursued by a Bear stand out to me--the simple fact that it's about positive healing and a support system makes it unusual and remarkable to me. On one hand, I feel a tiny bit sad that this idea is so revolutionary to me, but mostly I am just so grateful that Johnston has given us a book that will help influence and change the narrative about healing from sexual assault. Hermione's story is not everyone's story, and her journey isn't easy or magical, or even solved simply, but it shows readers another positive way towards healing. It reaffirms that that sexual assault isn't the beginning or ending of a person. That's a story that will always be important.

And, okay, switching gears here--how amazing is that cover? if you're going to have a cheerleader on your book cover, it better be that cheerleader. Such a kick-ass cover. It's perfect for this story.

Book purchased via indie Brilliant Books!

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