E.K. Johnston’s EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR is equal parts sexual assault story and ode to friendship. The real star of this story is Hermione and Polly’s unwavering friendship. In the wake of her assault, Hermione leans on Polly more than she does her parents. Polly is there in the hospital when Hermione wakes up after being raped, the one who has to say the words out loud.
Hermione’s struggle to cope with being raped felt realistic, and her situation is one I haven’t read before in YA lit (though I haven’t read too widely on the topic): because she has no memory of the rape, she feels like it happened to someone else. She can sympathize but not empathize, and this stalls her recovery a bit. I really enjoyed the scenes with her therapist. He’s old and blunt and hilarious, especially because he doesn’t understand cheerleading at all!
I wish all sexual assault victims received the same support and love that Hermione does. The reaction is the complete opposite from ALL THE RAGE, where protagonist Romy was blamed/harassed by classmates and townspeople. For the most part, Hermione’s friends and family remain solidly on her side.
Books about victim-blaming and rape culture are becoming more prevalent in the YA genre (ALL THE RAGE and SOME GIRLS ARE by Courtney Summers, WHAT WE SAW by Aaron Hartzler), and those stories are so important. We need to be aware of how society treats so many victims unfairly. And now, with EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR, I believe it’s equally important to portray the hopeful side of a terrible situation—how we should treat victims. With open ears, with belief, with support.