Book Review – Exit, Persued by a Bear by E.K Johnston
“I am constantly surprised, these days, at the creative ways by which people will avoid saying “you were raped.” Everyone’s broken where that word is concerned”
Plot in a Nutshell
In Exit, Persued by a Bear Hermione’s drink is spiked and she is raped and abandoned in a lake on the final night of cheerleading camp. What follows is the story of how Hermione comes to terms with what has happened to her and how with a great support network she moves forward. Not an easy read but ultimately a positive one which successfully shifts the narrative from the rapist to the victim.
Rape is not an easy subject matter to cover or to read about despite the plethora of novels, tv shows and movies which treat it as a simple plot device. This YA novel is different. Hermione and her relationships are at the heart of the story. Unlike many she has a really strong support network which means that much of the story is about her taking back control and choosing not to be defined by solely this experience. I recognise that this is not true of every rape survivor but it was refreshing to read about how this could work with the right support structure in place.
That’s is not to say the writing here is superficial. Johnson has worked hard to create a scenario and a town where Hermione is able to make the choices she makes. The crime takes place away from home so there is an underlying certainty for Hermione that she does not know her attacker which perhaps makes it easier for her to proceed as she does back at home. Nonetheless the town is a small one and as the co-leader of a successful cheerleading squad and she still faces a level of judgement and victim-shaming. This is quickly closed down; perhaps more quickly than is realistic regardless of her place in the schools social hierarchy.
The real strength of this novel is however in the relationships Hermione has. Be they with her parents, her coach and perhaps most of all her best friend Polly. Polly is consistently loyal and ultimately an out and out champion for Hermione which she desperately needs. Her parents are shown struggling but ultimately supportive. This really does work although I do note that none of the characters are very well fleshed out – other than the fact Polly is popular, a cheerleader, a great friend and just starting to find her way in a relationship with another girl we know very little about her
My one real criticism is that the story covers the full school year after Hermione’s attack and therefore has a slight implication of a timetable for healing – I would have like to have perhaps seen Hermione start university and deal with the reality of meeting new people moving away from her support network and growing on her strength beyond the simple time period shown here
Buy Exit, Pursued by a Bear