Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (15th Mar 2016)
“I love you,” Polly says suddenly when I’m almost to the door.
“I know,” I say.
Hermione Winters has been a flyer. She’s been captain of her cheerleading team. The envied girlfriend and the undisputed queen of her school. Now it’s her last year and those days and those labels are fading fast. In a few months she’ll be a different person. She thinks she’s ready for whatever comes next.
But then someone puts something in her drink at a party, and in an instant she finds herself wearing new labels, ones she never imagined:
Victim. Survivor. That raped girl.
Even though this was never the future she imagined, one essential thing remains unchanged: Hermione can still call herself Polly Olivier’s best friend, and that may be the truest label of all.
Heartbreaking and empowering, Exit, Pursued by a Bear is the story of transcendent friendship in the face of trauma.
“I love you,” I say, because I really, really do.
“I know,” says Polly.
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Trigger Warning: Rape.
Stepping out of my comfort zone in terms of books is something that I’ve been trying to do lately. Putting down the usual YA contemporaries and dystopian books, I decided to pick up some books over the coming months that focused on particular issues; consent, rape, LBGT, transgender struggles, depression/anxiety/suicide - amongst many others. The point? These topics aren’t spoken enough in YA fiction or fiction in general. And those books that have covered these issues, haven’t done them in the most tasteful of ways. For me at least, the point of this was to find books that have done it, and done it right, to be broaden my reading scope.
For this, one of the first books I picked up was Exit, Pursued by a Bear. With a catchy title like that, I was already hooked. What follows is the story of Hermione *10 points for using that name* a passionate cheerleader who is intent on making her mark in the competition with her friends - until she is raped.
Stories and fictional portrayal of rape is a slippery slope. There’s a lot of layers that need to be considered when constructing such a story and this is necessary. Creative licence aside, writing such a story means you need to remember the responsibility that comes with it. Rape is a sensitive topic, and triggers so many things for so many people - and you need to make sure you’re treading these waters carefully.
Having said all that - I also need to say that there is no right or wrong way to being a rape victim. Every single victim (and I say victim because a crime has been committed against them) has different ways of dealing and coping. Some spiral into depression, self destruction, or some veer the other way and choose not to let it define them and spring back - regardless of which path a person chooses - you’re all beautiful. you’re all brave. you’re more than what happened to you.
Coming back to this story - for me at least, the rape issue was dealt with almost kiddie gloves (and say this in a good way) - it wasn’t brutally displayed, no graphic details - and this is fitting with the tone of the story and aftermath that follows. This is almost like a gateway book, into issues of rape, as it starts the narrative and raises awareness - in this story, the setting being somewhere where you used to be comfortable and at home.
The writing was well paced and all in all a quick read to get through. The characters just didn’t seem too well developed to me, maybe with the exception of the best friend Polly, who felt more there and present than the others. Our main character almost fades. But I don’t think this is a huge downfall, in this book at least, because the focus is what happens, the aftermath, notions of labelling and perspective.
I had concerns at first, in the way Hermione reacted after hearing what had happened to her - there were no tears, no panic, she was even fine to come back to school and be surrounded by her teammates who were at this point still suspects in being the perpetrator - she was okay to be touched and thrown in the air and continue on with cheerleading. But. A good and needed but - then I realised that she hasn’t succumbed to letting this thing that happened to her actually label her. She’s adamant that she won’t be remembered as that girl who got raped, but rather the great cheerleader who used to come to this camp and competition. Upon realising that, I also came to the great conclusion that her reaction in the fact of what happened make sense - she couldn’t remember herself what happened - she had to be told - which changes a lot. If you can’t remember something yourself and are instead told what happens - your perceptions of how it affects you will be different. Almost detached and surreal. In that sense her decisions and attitude seemed in line.
It was a refreshing change to see the main sport being cheerleading as opposed to football or something extremely mainstream. The support our character gets from those around her, from her team mates, her parents, the police, the coach - was encouraging. Yes it may seem unrealistic that she has everyone concerned over her, service members at her constant beck and call to sort this out - a psychiatrist that comes all the way to her home to see her - and the reality of our time isn’t always like this, almost never like this - but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s this positivity in highlighting that, that kind of support system does exist. Sure, in real life it probably won’t tie up as neatly as the ending to this book did - but that doesn’t mean it can’t. It shouldn't be taken as false hope, but it shouldn’t be fully disregarded either. I appreciated seeing a book that was all about the support. It’s horrific and true that in majority of cases the victim is scared or ashamed to report it - and even more so afraid of not being believed or being accused of being provocative - but in this story at least, it was nice to see the support and strength of her family and friends.
This was a good read and I’m glad YA is starting to write on these issues. Other book reviews coming up in line with this topic includes ‘What We Saw’ and ‘Asking For It’ - the review for which will be coming in the next few weeks.