Sunday, 21 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 89: "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" by E.K. Johnston - BLOG POST NR 1000!

Page count: 254 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Because I'm not sure I'll be able to properly summarise this book without getting all teary-eyed (the hormones I'm currently injecting daily make my moods a bit of a roller-coaster), I am resorting to the blurb:

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 does not 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 knows 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 is a star cheerleader and a 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. 

The first line of the cover blurb puzzles me slightly. I can see where the Veronica Mars comparison comes in, as both Hermione (yes, her parents are Harry Potter fans) and Veronica were drugged and sexually assaulted and struggle to get to the bottom of who did it, but I'm not entirely sure where the Shakespeare comes in, except in the title. That's pretty much the only Shakespearean thing here (he really is not known for treating his women all that greatly). Poor Hermione would have faced a very different reality in a Shakespeare play, just look at how badly Hero is treated in Much Ado About Nothing, for instance.

E.K. Johnston admits in a note at the end of the book that she set out to make sure Hermione had an excellent support system. There is never any doubt that Hermione's been raped. Her team, her coach, her teachers, parents, minister and local community all stand by her and even though there is some malicious gossip, she is never disbelieved by anyone who matters. She gets excellent medical care, her case is taken seriously by the police. As the highly publicised Stanford rape case this summer showed, this is certainly not the case for a large majority of rape and sexual assault victims.

I don't normally put trigger warnings on my reviews, but really, this book is about rape. Because Hermione was drugged, she doesn't remember anything about the attack in question. She wakes up in a hospital bed and is told about the assault after the case. We don't get any graphic details of the actual rape, but I still cried when she is forced to acknowledge what happened to her, supported by her best friend and fierce defender, Polly.

The majority of this book is Hermione learning to pick herself up and continue living after the assault that she doesn't even remember. Not a single one of the guys on her cheerleading team hesitate for a second about giving DNA samples, so she doesn't need to worry that one of them was the culprit. But she still needs to get to a point where she feels safe being touched, and even man-handled, by the young men on her team. There is the terrifying few weeks while waiting to see if she's pregnant (if she is, they may get DNA evidence against her attacker, but she also has to deal with that revelation). There's the questions about whether she did something at the camp that led the rapist on - NOT that there is ANY victim-blaming in this book.

More than a book about assault, this is a book about friendship, love and community. This is another of the books that ended up as runner up in the upcoming Cannonball Book Club. Because of several glowing reviews by other Cannonballers, it was already on my radar, but I'm really glad that the Book Club made me pick it up sooner than I might otherwise have done. I really hope that it's a book that a lot of teenagers get to read, as while a horrible thing happens to Hermione, she at least doesn't have to go through the aftermath alone, without help and support, mistrusted or disbelieved. Hermione is determined not to be remembered as a victim and the book ends with the hope that she can transcend the bad thing that happened to her, letting her move on to a brighter future.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover features a cheerleader thrown into the air, soaring over the supportive arms of her teammates, waiting to catch her. The sky in the background is in beautiful shades of pastel, giving the cover an almost dreamy feel. Considering the strength and support given to Hermione by her cheerleading team, not to mention the rest of her little town, I think the cover is very appropriate.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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