Exit, Pursued by a Bear – E.K. Johnston
Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine.
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.
In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.
It feels weird to say that a book about rape was good, but this book about rape was good. It’s a hard topic to deal with, and I can’t say I’ve read any other YA that talks about rape so openly, but I think it’s important that this book exists (plus that cover is gorgeous).
That being said, I had some issues with it.
I’ve read reviews that talked about how “easy” this book was, how Hermione’s support system was so perfect and, apart from some nasty rumours early on, she was never treated differently. And it did, for the most part, seem too “perfect” – everyone knew what to say and how to act, and Hermione herself was so well put together, it was hard to believe she was a teenager, nevermind a teenager who had been drugged and raped and – MINI SPOILER ALERT – had an abortion. Just one of those things should have been enough to push her over the edge, but she was remarkably calm, almost robotic, in the way she described her thoughts and feelings.
While Hermione herself mentions that she feels disconnected from the event because she can’t remember what happened, it’s hard, as a reader, to even begin to understand her when the narrative feels so disjointed, more like a checklist of events and moments that had to happen before the climactic scene at the end (which lasted all of two pages) than a real story. I know I liked E.K. Johnston’s writing style when I read A Thousand Nights, so maybe it was Hermione’s character that I couldn’t connect with? I did like her best friend, Polly, though, and I liked Polly’s sideplot, though it did feel like it came out of nowhere.
…if I were dead, they could just bury me…and move on. Broken is harder to deal with.
One thing I absolutely did not get was Hermione’s relationship with Leo. Leo proves himself to be a jealous dick who basically victim-blames Hermione because she dared to speak to other guys at their cheerleading camp, and she dumps him (and rightfully so!). But she never really seemed interested in him in the first place, so why were they together at all? What purpose did he play apart from being the jealous ex who turns around in the end? Literally anyone else could have taken the role of victim-blamer and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the overall story.
You’re okay with asking a girl who was wearing a pretty dress and had nice hair, who went to the dance with her cabin mates, who drank from the same punch bowl as everyone else – you’re okay with asking that girl what mistake she made, and you wouldn’t think to ask a boy how he would avoid raping someone?
E.K. Johnston does get props for setting it in Canada – northern Ontario, no less – with a brief mention of my hometown (Amy, another girl at the cheerleading camp, is from Mississauga), not to mention the fact that Polly decides to attend my alma mater (McMaster represent!). I never realized cheerleading was a big deal in Canada, to be honest, since I don’t think my high school even had a squad. And I also don’t get why Hermione needed to ace calculus to get into a Humanities/Social Science based program, but it’s also been a while since I had to apply to university, so maybe that’s a thing now?
I haven’t read The Winter’s Tale yet (I’ve always wanted to), but now I might have to, to see if I can catch all the Shakespeare references in this book.