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“I will not be a frozen example, a statued monument to there-but-by-the-grace-of-God. I have danced before and I will dance tomorrow,” Hermione Winters. —Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Exit, Pursued by a Bear
by E. K. Johnston
AR Test, LGBTQ, Strong Female Character
Hermione Winters doesn’t want people’s prayers. She’s used to the labels: a Palermo Height’s cheerleader, captain of her team, one of the most popular girls at her school, and Leo’s girlfriend. When someone slips something into her drink one night, she also becomes Hermione Winters, “that raped girl.” With her support system, Hermione must wade through the aftermath of her trauma. Exit, Pursued by a Bear presents the aftermath of a rape through the eyes of a leader who learns more about her inner strength and the strength of her friendships in ways she never could have imagined.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear touches upon sensitive topics including rape and abortion. Johnston handles these topics with seriousness and dignity. Hermione’s experiences with these topics are not universal, but Johnston gives Hermione the tools necessary to come out of these situations in the best way possible. Some readers might be troubled by the fact that Hermione’s situation leaves out some of the nastier aspects. The story focuses more on the good people supporting Hermione and her recovery. The negative reactions from the community towards rape victims exist as barriers occasionally, but Hermione overcomes most of these experiences. Because the story focuses on Hermione reclaiming the good in her life after her trauma, some readers may feel this narrative is too light or too feel-good for the content.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear is powerful because it diverges from the standard commentary about the failures of the justice system and the negative reaction of the community when someone is raped. Instead, the story focuses more on the victim’s reclamation of life. Hermione has a strong voice, is an intelligent leader on her cheer team, and her teammates respect her level head. Although she suffers after a terrible event, she runs on an inner monologue of refusal—she will not stop attending class, she will not quit cheerleading, and she will not be beaten down.
Without her incredible support system, Hermione would have encountered more difficulties. Her best friend Polly, her parents, her teammates, and her coach stand by her with unwavering support in all her decisions. When Hermione finds out that she is pregnant as a result of the rape, her parents and Polly help her proceed with an abortion. When Hermione’s triggers threaten to overtake her, Polly is there to give her the help that she needs. Despite the traumas that Hermione faces, her friends and family stand by her and aid Hermione’s slow return to normalcy.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear tells a different type of narrative about a rape victim, and Johnston succeeds in showing Hermione’s recovery process. Although this story may not be a universal experience, it presents a story where life continues, and the heroine isn’t stuck with being “that raped girl.” Hermione Winters, a future university student, will not have anyone’s judgment but her own. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a must-read because its displays the strength of heart and mind, and the inspirational spirit that encourages Hermione to never give up the fight.
- At cheer camp, Leo, Hermione’s boyfriend, “in his esteemed wisdom, has given [her] a box of condoms.”
- After she was raped, Hermione finds out that she is pregnant and decides to have an abortion. There are descriptions of her going to the clinic and describing the procedure, though it is somewhat vague. Hermione says, “The collection bag isn’t see-through, exactly, but I can tell there’s a mass inside it that wasn’t there before.” The scene is described over several pages.
- Polly admits that she and Amy, a cheerleader at another school, have been dating. Polly tells Hermione, “We’ve been doing the long-distance thing since camp, mostly, though I went to see her over Thanksgiving.”
- Of Hermione and Leo’s former relationship, Hermione says that they “hadn’t done much in the way of fooling around.”
- In a conversation with Hermione, Polly says, “Um, I may have looked up some of [the ‘rules’] when I was wondering if having sex with another girl would mean I wasn’t a virgin anymore.”
- Hermione starts to have lustful thoughts about Dion, one of her male teammates. After the Halloween dance, Dion helps her out of the gym. Hermione thinks that “awkward thoughts about Dion [are] floating around my head… If I can still feel, then maybe someday I’ll be able to have sex with someone I like and it won’t be a problem.”
- Dion asks Hermione out, and he then kisses her. She describes the kiss. Dion “kisses me. Not like I’ll break, but not forcefully either… One hand is on my hip and the other is on my neck, tangling my ponytail.”
- At nationals, Amy wanders into the cheer team’s cabin, and Polly “pulls Amy right down into her lap.”
- Hermione gives a speech about the “curse” upon Palermo Heights Secondary School. She says, “Every year one of the girls at PHSS gets pregnant.”
- At cheer camp, Hermione is drugged, raped, and left in the lake. Twelve hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed. Because the book is from Hermione’s perspective and she has no memory of that night, Polly gives the details to Hermione. While Hermione is in the hospital, Polly tells her, “They found you in the lake… You were still in your dress, but your underwear was gone, and you were up to your waist in water, lying on the rocks… Someone spiked your drink at the dance. And then he got you alone and took you down by the water. And you couldn’t stop him, because the bastard drugged you. And then he raped you.” Hermione mentions that she has bruises and is in pain for some time after. The scene is described over a couple of pages.
- After she’s raped, Leo treats Hermione like a pariah, and she hears that he’s most likely spreading rumors about her. Weeks later during chemistry class, Hermione finally sees him in person. She walks up to him, “slap[s] him across the face as hard as [she] can, and stalk[s] out of the room.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- At a dance, someone slips a date-rape drug into Hermione’s drink. She narrates right before she loses consciousness, “There’s something wrong. I wasn’t this tired until right this second… There’s a moment when I know that I should scream. But screaming would be hard. And blackness would be easy. Black picks me.”
- According to Hermione, the other part of the “curse” upon Palermo Heights is that “Every single class at Palermo Heights since 2006 has lost at least one student to a drunk driver.”
- Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes shit, damn, bitch, bastard, hell, and ass.
- Throughout the book, Hermione’s best friend Polly verbally threatens people, sometimes playfully and sometimes with serious intent. However, she never makes good on her promises. For example, when Hermione and Polly are competing against each other, Polly says playfully, “Damn straight. I’m going to kick your ass all weekend.”
- When Leo verbally accosts Hermione, Polly says to him, “Get your ass to your cabin before you get caught, and if I ever hear you talk like that about any girl, alive or dead, I will skin you.”
- Hermione runs into the church she and her dad used to attend and asks Pastor Rob for a favor, saying, “Please don’t ask people to pray for me.”
- Pastor Robs tells Hermione, “I’ll leave the specifics to God, and pray for your peace of mind.”
- Pastor Rob and Hermione talk about her abortion. He tells her, “If someone starts throwing around stupid words like ‘It’s a gift,’ or ‘It’s in God’s plan,’ you come right here, and I’ll find you ten ways in which it isn’t.”
- Hermione says of the nurse in the abortion clinic, “I’m now convinced that God put her on this earth to do exactly this job, and I hope she gets one heck of a karmic payoff for it later.”
- Several women sit in the recovery room of the abortion clinic. One woman says the fetus “didn’t look like a person. Not even a little bit. Not like those religious people say. I did the right thing.”
by Alli Kestler