A buzzed-about book released in March, I was elated when it finally arrived in the library. It starts with the beauty of the back-lit cover of a cheerleader in flight and the title: Exit, Pursued by a Bear and ends with the significance of a story about a protagonist sexually assaulted. There are plenty of YA books that discuss sexual assault and their beauty is in the range of reactions and secondary characters that the writers incorporate to paint a picture where teen readers can learn, understand, empathize, and be educated in how to prevent, deal with, or help when conversations turn to rape.
Hermione’s reaction is off-putting to many in her school, on her squad, and even her therapist because she responds with strength and the resolution to keep moving forward. Their reaction to her is that she is not “dealing with” the rape if she has returned to school and her squad, even when the rapist has not been caught. It’s everyone’s response to her response that makes this book poignant. There’s also a deep appreciation for Hermione’s relationship with her best friend, Polly. Polly is there to say the word rape, Polly is there to stand by her friend and tell her that it’s okay to cry. It’s not another boy who is there to save the day or fall in love with her to lift her up, but a friend. Add to this that Johnston includes decisions regarding the option of an abortion and you have a well-rounded picture of the range of experiences, decisions, and emotions that victims of rape endure.
There are certainly situations that I take issue with including an over-reliance on her friend Polly to help in decisions more suited for Hermione’s parents or the resolution of the story itself, but it does not detract from the book’s message: you can be who you are, have a terrible thing happen to you, and still have the freedom to be who you are. Yes, experiences can change you or your worldview, but they don’t always have to. Stop thinking about what everyone else thinks you should be doing. It’s a powerful message for teens who are continually discovering who they are and what they’re made of while also still addressing important topics regarding safety and sex.