August 25, 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

by E. K. Johnston
Dutton Books for Young Readers
256 pp.
Ages 12-18
March 2016

It's not unusual for me to add graphic elements to my image of a book cover to enhance it and perhaps provide the reader with a little hint about the book. I could not do that disservice to Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston as the book's emotional story deserves to have its superb cover unadorned by my trivial efforts.  Exit, Pursued by a Bear needs to be left with a starkness that attests to the nature of the story within because
Everything about this is unfair. (pg. 131)
Teen Hermione Winters is off to cheerleading Camp Manitouwabing with best friend and co-captain Polly, boyfriend Leo and the rest of the Fighting Golden Bears, Palermo Heights high school’s squad, along with their coach, Alexandra Caledon.  As she will be entering her senior year after camp, Hermione whose positive attitude is as bright as her future intends to make this, her last cheer camp, the best for all involved. At the first bonfire, when squad captains share what their teams need to overcome, Hermione talks of two curses the school has: that each graduating class, since the death of Clara Abbey in 2006, will lose one person to a drunk driver, and that every year one girl at school gets pregnant.
“…I do think it’s life’s way of reminding us that nothing should be taken for granted, that things might take a turn in ways that aren’t fair or don’t make sense.” (pg. 23)
It’s an amazing camp of hard work, meeting new people and fun, though Leo is in a perpetual cranky mood for the lack of time he gets with Hermione.  Then, at a dance, Hermione is drugged and raped and left in the lake.  Awakening in the hospital, she has to be told what has happened to her because she has no memory of the attack.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is Hermione’s journey of emotions and waiting and introspection and compassion.  Hermione may be a flyer on the cheerleading team but she is fully grounded in herself and her caring of others and what she believes.  As much as she is convinced that she is a changed person when she returns from camp, she truly isn’t.  The rape, and subsequent pregnancy and abortion, and search for the rapist do not change the force that makes Hermione a leader and a flyer.  Even through her sessions with the indomitable Dr. Hutt, Hermione does not come across as traumatized or broken.
That’s the first time I’ve thought of myself as broken.  Polly won’t let me, I don’t think, but everyone else seems to expect it.  And maybe I am.  Maybe this would be easier if I acted like I am broken.  Then they’ll be able to fix me.  You can’t fix something that doesn’t know it’s broken. (pg. 81)
She is hardly self-absorbed–though she should be allowed to be–often worrying about how her trauma is affecting her best friend, her teammates, her parents, her psychiatrist, even the OPP officer that is handling the criminal investigation.

Take a deep breath before you read E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear.  It’s strenuously moving, both dispiriting and uplifting, as Hermione and her team of family, friends and strangers as well as the reader are taken from the trauma of a rape through the healing process, including an unlikely return to the scene of the crime, before tumbling to a finish that is fair and astonishing.

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