source: e-galley from Penguin
publication: March 15, 2016, Dutton
Let me start by saying, the cover artists did an amazing job finding the right image to represent this book. The cover evokes the exact same feeling you get from reading it.
If you ask me, Exit, Pursued by a Bear should go up there with Speak as a classic YA book dealing with sexual assault, both because it's that good and because the juxtaposition would show just how broad a spectrum there is for those situations. The aftermath can vary wildly, and I think these and every book like these are important because they can hold a mirror to so many more teens through their differences.
What E.K. Johnston has done is finally, finally give us a novel about a well-adjusted character with a constant support system full of people willing to give her what she needs. Hermione doesn't remember what happened to her, but she knows she's changed by it in some fundamental way and she's not hiding from that. She always did and still does care about everyone else's feelings—is she making them uncomfortable? Should she be thinking about herself less, and them more?—but she learns to demand respect, to make her assault about her and no one else.
Hermione's character development alone would be enough to make this novel satisfying, but we also get her friendships with her team, and especially Polly, who may run a little toward the typical tough-best-friend but who is integral in helping Hermione decide how she will let people treat her. We get her supportive family who aren't quite sure how to approach her now, and her quirky therapist (yes, she willingly sees a therapist and for once, she's a teenager who isn't bitter or rude about it). We get her cheerleading team, that deep-down familiar camaraderie and friendship that shaped her into an empathetic, levelheaded leader. I never did sports in school, so all of my knowledge of team dynamics was based on Friday Night Lights; I can't believe I'm saying this, but this book was more effective at making me wish I had been on a team.
Not only does Johnston give us positive relationships and a heroine who talks about her feelings, but she also addresses all the things you would want a book about rape to address: rape culture, victim-blaming, unwanted pregnancy, psychological damage, and the idea that a victim stops being her own person and becomes some kind of message for everyone else. I had never really thought about it before, but this book opened my eyes to how many people can and will use someone else's tragedy as a vehicle for their own betterment; I loved Hermione for noticing it, and I loved her more for not being filled with rage about it.
Overall there were so many things I loved about this book, but probably the biggest were the friendships—of all different kinds—the keenness and sensitivity with which it addresses the issues, and most of all, the main character. I'm really glad I got to know her.