Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

exit pursued by a bearSynopsis: 

“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.

The second I saw the title of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I love The Winter’s Tale, which is where the title originates from. I adore Shakespeare, and I was looking forward to plenty of Shakespearean references scattered throughout the book. That, coupled with the rape-victim premise – an important topic for YA lit to cover, in my opinion – made this book sound like a must-read.

Unfortunately, for me, Exit, Pursued by a Bear fell short.

There were quite a few things I liked about this book:

  • I learned a lot about cheerleading, and got to see the sport (and the people who participate in it) in a new light. That was refreshing, and it made me feel bad for judging cheerleaders harshly in the past. Sure, some of them are pretty awful, but that doesn’t mean they all are.
  • The story flows very well, and Hermione makes for an excellent narrator. She’s easy to like, and she is neither a victim or a superhuman – she’s merely a girl learning to cope with something awful that happens to her.
  • I liked that this story took rape and focused on overcoming it, rather than staying victim to it. Of course, every case is different, but I think it’s good that there’s a book out there about finding your strength again after you’ve been through something traumatic. It’s definitely important, and I think there will be a lot of people for whom this book is not only relatable but crucial. There will be people who adore this book.

But, while I liked Hermione, and I was shocked by the horrible thing she went through at camp, I didn’t feel a true connection with her. This was a story I felt should have moved me, but in the end, I just didn’t feel very much. I wish it had, but I just didn’t form a bond with this book.

This was a “meh” book for me. It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great. In the end I wasn’t mad that I finished it or ecstatic that I finished it… I was just like, “Yeah, okay. I guess that’s it.” I wish there had been more references to Shakespeare, and I wish that I had liked it more than I did. I think E.K. Johnston is a great writer though, and I’m definitely going to look into reading some of her other work.

In the end I’m sure that a lot of people will love this book, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. After all, as Shakespeare once wrote, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Rating: 3.5 stars 

Did you like Exit, Pursued by a Bear? Do you have any great Contemporary YA recs for me?? Please share in the comments! 🙂

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