Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Summary (from Goodreads): 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 doesn’t 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 does know 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's 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.
Review: I didn't notice the summary of this book comparing it to Shakespeare before I started reading; I have to admit that I was confused about the book's title, and I thought that the choice of characters' names was unusual. After I finished the book, I did some research, and apparently "Exit, pursued by a bear" is one of Shakespeare's most unusual stage directions, from the play "The Winter's Tale". After reading a summary of the play, I still don't see the connection to the plot of this book, but it is clear that almost all the major characters got their names from Shakespeare's play - Hermione (the beautiful, virtuous queen), Leo (Leontes, the king), Polly (Paulina, Hermione's friend), the secondary characters Dion, Clement, Tig, and Amy, and even the completely unnecessary coach's daughter Florry. I also read up on Veronica Mars, and it seems like the only similarity the book has to that show is that Veronica was drugged and raped at a party, too. So I think the publisher's summary is a little sensationalist....
This is a hard book to review, because it deals with rape. I have absolutely no personal experience with rape, so I can't speak to how realistic Hermione's emotions are after she was raped. I thought it was interesting that she didn't know how to feel herself, and that she kept questioning whether her feelings and behavior were right or normal. At the end of the book, the author pointed out that she wanted Hermione to have a strong support system, and she did - her parents, best friend, cheerleading squad, minister and police officers were staunchly kind, supportive and on her side - that certainly helped Hermione cope with her situation. Is this a typical environment for a rape victim? I would guess not. It did make the book feel a little Disneyfied - smart, beautiful, talented, blonde cheerleader gets drugged and raped at a party; sure, she suffers from some malicious gossip, but her friends stand up for her in all the best possible ways, and she copes amazingly well with all the fallout.
BUT, I couldn't put this book down, and I haven't felt that way about a book in a long time. Johnston's writing was so easy and enjoyable to read, even while dealing with difficult topics. I loved the strength that Hermione displayed throughout the book, and I loved seeing her amazing friendship with Polly.
Rating: 4 stars