Monday, 2 May 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
by E.K. Johnston

Summary: Hermione Winters has been a flyer. She’s been captain of her cheerleading team. The envied girlfriend and the undisputed queen of her school. Now it’s her last year and those days and those labels are fading fast. In a few months she’ll be a different person. She thinks she’s ready for whatever comes next.

But then someone puts something in her drink at a party, and in an instant she finds herself wearing new labels, ones she never imagined:

Victim. Survivor. That raped girl.

Even though this was never the future she imagined, one essential thing remains unchanged: Hermione can still call herself Polly Olivier’s best friend, and that may be the truest label of all.
My thoughts on this book are kind of all over the place, but I think they're mostly positive. And I apologize in advance for how long this review will probably be...

Here's what I loved about it:
  • It had parents who are both alive and very much present in the story. Parents who actually, well, parent. Which is kind of annoyingly rare in most of the YA books I read.
  • It has LGBTQ+ characters. One of which has a big role in the story that doesn't revolve entirely around their sexuality because it's just a part of who they are and not their whole story.
  • SO much positive female friendships/relationships. I loved that. On that level, it was exactly the kind of book I've been looking for recently. It didn't turn them into unnecessary rivals or have them be catty, it just had them care about each other fiercely and I love that.
  • It captures that senior year feeling so well. That "this is the end of something, but also the beginning of something and I'm happy and sad and excited and scared" kind of feeling.
  • The way it tackles choices Hermione has to make in the story.
  • I also loved that the rape in the story wasn't being used as a plot device in a romance to give the character a tragic back story. It upsets me so much when it's used that way because it's so disrespectful. I loved that romance barely played a part in the story (and this is coming from someone who loves romances).
Now, here's where it gets more complicated for me. The story is about a rape survivor -- what happened to her, the aftermath of it, how she copes with it and I have kind of mixed feelings on it.

On one hand, I appreciated that it was different to the other stories that tackle this subject matter. It did it in a more...positive way? less angsty way?...I'm not sure the correct way to phrase it. But what I mean is this: so many stories that deal with the issue of rape have victims that are so broken and traumatised by what happened to them and have the characters react in the same sort of ways and have the same handful of coping mechanisms.

And that? That's fine. More often than not, it's realistic. And those stories are so important -- but I appreciated that this one showed the character dealing with it in a different way because I have seen way too many ignorant people say that they think a girl is lying about being raped because she doesn't react or behave the way they think a rape victim should act. They have such a limited view of what rapists should be like, what victims should be like, what does and does not count as rape -- so when someone's story doesn't fit in with that limited view they have, they think it's a lie.

So yeah...I loved that it showed a different reaction to the ones we normally see in fiction, because the truth is people deal with trauma in their own way and there is no wrong way of reacting -- harmful ways, self destructive ways? Yes, but not wrong. Not any that invalidate their experiences.

The only things I didn't love about the book while reading was that the way the beginning of the story plays out comes across as really contrived and the way it portrays the aftermath of rape.

I mean -- I've said all the things I did like about the way the subject matter was handled, but there were aspects of it that I didn't like. It portrays the aftermath in very Lifetime movie sort of way that kind of perpetuates some of the harmful misconceptions about rape (that victims are supported by nearly everyone, that the justice system is totally on their side, etc.).

I think maybe that just bothered me because of some conversations I'd had just before reading the book, with people who were saying a girl was lying about her attack because she didn't go to the police -- and the reason they think that, is because they think the way it's portrayed in this book will be the reality for most victims when it isn't.

The author does acknowledge that not many victims have the support system Hermione does in the book but it's in the author note which not everyone reads. So yeah, I had mixed feelings about the portrayal (but that's a totally subjective thing on my part).

There was so much that I loved about the book really, and I can't quite pinpoint what it was about it that stopped it from wowing me. When I finished the book, my thoughts were mostly positive but the book hadn't gotten under my skin. It hadn't pulled me so thoroughly into the story that I was wrecked by the low points or smiling with the high points. It didn't linger with me, the story didn't haunt me for days--or even hours--after finishing. It's not a favourite, although it feels like it should've been.

I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5, but I can easily see it being a 5 star read for so many people.


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