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

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.

In a cultural moment when scientists are coming up with things like date-rape-drug-detecting nail polish, this is an unfortunately all too relevant story. While the novel begins meanderingly and simply, telling the story of Hermione and her teammates at a cheerleading camp, about a third of the way into the book the sense of urgency increases exponentially and Hermione's tale becomes anything but meandering or simple. Hermione herself is a confident young woman, but when she is drugged, she begins to rely much more on her friends and teammates. But it's still not easy...
We sit around the table at breakfast and dinner, and try to figure out how it works now. Non of us are sure. It's probably the scariest part of the whole thing so far. Words have changed meaning for my parents too, but the translation seems harder for them. Their words have no emotion or too much emotion or the wrong emotion. Not only am I broken, I've broken my parents.
What I love about this book is that it's not overly complex. The story isn't about discovering the identity of the perpetrator (though that's obviously part of it), rather it's about a girl's horrific experience with rape, but in this case with supportive parents, kind and helpful friends, and the ability to make choices when it comes to her own situation. 

As one individual pointed out (perhaps unnecessarily), this book is Canadian, especially in terms of some of the cultural and legal situations presented, and I only point this out because sometimes it's difficult for Americans to relate to situations in other countries (and I don't say this judgmentally!). I also really appreciate how blunt/real Johnston is throughout the novel where language around sexual violence is concerned. It's not often you see the real words being used routinely. So often veiled language is used in place.

Johnston's writing is superb, never overly expositional or detailed, and never too plot driven. She is a very talented writer whose abilities are not easily categorized, and this particular novel is another example of that same agile writing potential. Exit, Pursued by a Bear, is a book that you need to check out, though be aware that those who are particularly sensitive or in need of trigger warnings may need some emotional support when reading the novel.

Highly Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out March 15, 2016)


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