EXIT, Pursued By a Bear
When the bad guy is finished off by a large, vicious animal.This is a method to keep the hero’s hands clean while still dispatching the villain. The difference is that that trope is more removing an obstacle without losing karma for the heroes. – TV Tropes
I do not have to mention rape as a touchy plot device to use inside stories. The topic divides writers and readers. Some say to use it to explore facets necessary to end rape culture; whereas, others say less capable hands exploits and adds to rape culture.
I stand in the middle. Rape and sexual assault needs discussion. Survivors should have the space to vent and discussion its aftermath. But, in less capable hands, they get exploited. So, leave the topic to those well-researched.
In E.K. Johnston’s “EXIT, Pursued By A Bear”, I’m not quite sure where this author stands as impact outweighs intent.
Meet Hermoine Winters. Popular cheerleading captain. Her summer training camp is her last as she awaits graduation in her coming year. She wishes to make her experience memorable. But, what she fails to expect is how memorable her camp time offers.
Someone sexually assaults her, after the rapist roofies her drink at the end of camp party. As a result of the roofie, she cannot remember the rape nor its perpetrator. Her rapist impregnates her and makes a decision to save her future.
Unfortunately, Johnston’s book reads like an author letting her readers know she researched the topic; therefore, the story reads like a textbook article. There’s a coldness emitting within each page. She leaves out emotional connections vital to this story. Maybe she wished not to write the predictable story about a rape’s aftermath, which I understand. However, she sacrificed heart for message. I never connected with the main character. NOT AT ALL.
- She reads like a self-aware woman, not a teenager. Her dialogue comes off as unrealistic for a teen. I teach them. I know how they sound, pre and post-trauma. Hermoine failed to sound her age, which put me off.
- Emotionally cold. Robotic even. Rape survivors run the gamut of behavior. Some remain bubbly. Some detach. But, even in moments where she cries, I never believed her.
- You couldn’t tell she was traumatized. Even in situations where the survivor could not remember, trauma remains present. Her triggering moments failed.
Furthermore, her supporting cast bored me. They were either nonexistent and bland (e.g. her parents) or one-dimensional (e.g. her best friend, Polly). Everyone resembles a terrible after-school special where the budget excluded acting courses. For example, Dr. Hutt serves as the Mr. Exposition (I adore TV Tropes, if you cannot tell) by explaining details without showing them.
In addition, I did not care for the obvious “Let’s make a friend gay” to appear diverse and deep. I understood Clarence. But, using Polly’s coming out as a trope to add depth failed and came off as insulting. Once again, impact outweighs intent. I do not think Johnston means to insult, but, perhaps, the queerbaiting used suited Hermoine’s and Polly’s relationship better. Johnston drops the ball by making Polly and Amy the lesbians instead.
Also, I’m not a fan of book blurb’s promising a story line that’s not present. She’s not a pariah at all. She’s supported and the pregnancy’s aborted before the story’s middle. Bull.
Moreso, the ending hurts for a better edit. Sometimes we do not get the justice begged. But, get this, how about not leading us to red herrings only to drop the ball (again) by book’s end? Seriously, the suspects are not what they seem.
Disappointment, pursued by better books.
However, two moments of satisfaction present themselves. One, we do not get a gratuitous assault scene. I’m not a fan. You do not need to add one to make your point and I’m grateful. Two, a reporter interviews Hermoine and Polly and implies that Hermoine gives advice to future cheerleading campers about how not to get raped. They nail her by asking whether she’d question males about how not to rape. While these two moments deliver, they do not satisfy for long.
Rape’s constitutes trauma, ugliness, and pain for years. There’s no cuteness administered. This book insults those bearing pain. Johnston writes as though she forgot the first sentence of this paragraph. She writes a message episode of Sweet Valley High, instead of a novel about brutality. NO!
What could have been added to the arsenal of YA books about the rape and its aftermath, only fails as a bland distraction. Please seek out Speak by Laurie Halsie Anderson, What I Used to Be by Amber Smith, and All the Rage by Courtney Summers. These books deserve your attention, not this one.
Verdict: 2/5 Failed Dismounts
*This book sits on my bookshelf unhappy about making junior varsity, not varsity.*