A weird title, to be sure, but it’s a nod to Shakespeare! I really loved how strong the 17-year old protagonist is after she is drugged and raped at cheerleading camp. I love the idea that NOT falling apart after such a traumatic event is also normal. This is a strong addition to any library serving teens.
Seventeen-year old Hermione Winters is a happy, popular cheerleader. In her last summer at cheerleading camp, Hermione is given a drink and blacks out completely. She wakes up in a hospital, where doctors tell her she was drugged and raped. Hermione refuses to be a statistic, but her rapist is still out there. This book follows Hermione’s senior year and the fallout that occurs after her rape becomes public knowledge.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITLE
Yes, this is a strange title. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. The title refers to Shakespeare’s stage directions just before the death of Antigonus (who is eaten by a bear). Some of the characters in Exit clearly represent characters in A Winter’s Tale. Without a doubt, Leon is King Leontes and Hermione is Queen Hermione. Polly, Hermione’s best friend, is Paulina from A Winter’s Tale. Other characters seem to represent Shakespeare’s characters in name only: Antigonus (Tig), Florizel (Florry), Camillo (Amy?), and Dion (Dion).
READING THIS FOR A BOOK CLUB?
If you’re in a book club and want to show off a bit, here’s some cool stuff:
On the last page of the book, Hermione tells Polly, “I will not be a frozen example–a statued monument to there-but-by-the-grace-of-God.”
A line or two later, Hermione thinks, “As I exit the field with Polly, I close my eyes and imagine a baby who never was, and a little girl who was never anything else. They will be forgotten, for the most part.”
Both of these are A Winter’s Tale allusions. In AWT, a statue of Queen Hermione comes to life after Hermione herself dies. Hermione Winters is saying that her fate will be better than the fate of Queen Hermione’s fate.
In the second quote, Hermione Winters refers to her own aborted child. In AWT, Queen Hermione has a baby girl in the story, but because her husband King Leon doesn’t believe the child is his, he orders the baby girl abandoned on a beach. She grows up in the story, but she is not with her parents. She does not know she is a lost princess. Shakespeare named her “Perdita,” which is Latin for lost.
Polly also says, “There’s some quote about digging two graves…”
I didn’t remember any quotes about digging two graves in AWT, and it turns out that there aren’t any. The quote Polly refers to here may come from Confucious: “If you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” According to this site, similar versions of this quote have appeared in many places and time periods.
WHAT I LIKED
Hands down, my favorite part of this book is the strength of friends Hermione and Polly, plus the growth of the character Leon. Sure, he’s a complete jackass for most of the book, but he grown and learns.
Exit, Pursued By a Bear is an empowering story. It’s not about a rape victim who goes into a deep depression and tries to climb out of it. Hermione is a rape victim who stays strong and knows that she didn’t do anything to cause someone else to rape her. She knows that she did nothing wrong, and as a result, she’s able to call out anyone who tries to put the blame on her actions.
In the author’s note at the end, Johnston talks about how she wanted Hermione to have a supportive community around her. Hermione’s parents, friends, fellow cheerleaders, her psychiatrist, the police, the doctors…all are supportive and help Hermione recover herself after her rape. The author does point out, however, that many women feel completely alone and even blamed after a rape. Exit is what should happen after a rape; not what often does happen.
I also like the normalization of Hermione’s feelings and actions after her rape. She may not handle her situation the way some others do, but there is no “right” or “wrong” way to behave after a rape. Whether they themselves have been raped, readers should know that in any traumatic circumstance, there is no right or wrong way for someone to deal with it. Someone’s post-trauma experiences don’t have to match what we think our own post-trauma experience might be if we experienced it. Judging someone’s reaction to trauma is totally unfair, and I think Johnston does a great job showing that in the story.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Um…I liked the whole book. I found it to be a realistic portrayal of one person’s experience with being drugged and raped. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.
I love the cover, especially how multiple sets of hands are waiting to catch the cheerleader (presumably, Hermione). The cheerleader is up in the air, but she looks confidently at the hands waiting to catch her. She knows she is safe.
LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW
Themes: Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale, rape, cheerleading, camp, strong females, consent
Would adults like this book? YES
Would I buy this for my high school library? YES–no reservations
Would I buy this for my middle school library? YES–no reservations, though middle school librarians should see my content notes below. This is a story about the aftermath of a rape. The rape itself isn’t detailed. Hermione drinks a drink, follows a boy to what she thinks is the garbage can, then she wakes in the hospital. She remembers nothing specific about the rape at any point.
Language: medium; fewer than 5 each of f*ck, damn, sh*t
Sexuality: mild; some kissing and innuendo (condoms planted in Hermione’s suitcase, a few remarks)
Violence: mild; rape is at center of story, but there are zero details about the rape
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; Hermione is slipped a drugged drink at a cheerleading camp dance
Other: abortion occurs, but it’s also not detailed–it focuses more on Hermione’s feelings about it and the other women in the room than it does on the actual procedure
BOOKTALK OR DISPLAY THIS WITH:
Have you read Exit, Pursued By a Bear?
What did I miss on the Winter’s Tale references?