So I made the mistake of picking up one of the “staff picks” from the library, which was E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear. First, it’s a YA novel, and I used to read them a lot because I write in that genre. I don’t read them much anymore because I can’t stand the subject matter and the push for YA novels to be more “inclusive” and “diverse.” I doubt I’d let my son read YA until he was old enough to realize the agenda behind most of it. Not even books are safe from this culture. Bleh. Anyway.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear (named after that famous stage direction from Shakespeare) seemed like it would be good, even reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (a classic of the YA genre). It focuses on a character called Hermione Winters (another Shakespeare reference, although because of the popularity of the Harry Potter series, one would think that character name is forever associated with that series and therefore unusable), who’s a cheerleader and is raped at a party at cheer camp after inadvertently drinking something spiked with roofies.
This is going to sound terrible of me, but I didn’t sympathize much with Hermione. Even after the rape, she seemed so put together, so mature, and so adult. I didn’t think that was realistic, especially given what she had been through and the difficult decisions she had to make. Had I been in her position at her age, I would have completely fallen apart. I understand that the author wanted to create a strong character, but I felt like Hermione was too strong to be easy to relate to or realistic. Her parents and best friend stuck by her and supported her in her decisions; nobody really seemed to oppose her, but I think this was done because she already had enough difficulty (i.e., dealing with the rape and its aftermath).
The book’s jacket and blurb gave no indication that it would involve abortion, but it did. After realizing she is pregnant as the result of the rape, Hermione gets an abortion. It wasn’t described in gory detail, but it was just enough to make me feel incredibly uncomfortable, which was probably the author’s intent. I kept waiting for her to suddenly change her mind and not go through with it, but that never happened. My opinion on abortion is that it’s abhorrent, so naturally, I thought the author could have had Hermione consider other options before choosing abortion and being completely and totally sure of herself—much more like an adult than like a teenager.
During the course of the book, we also find out that Hermione’s best friend is a lesbian, but this doesn’t really have any bearing on the plot. I think it was done for effect, just to show that the author is “hip” and “woke” and “with it” because it’s hard to find a YA book without some kind of LGBT representation.
I read the acknowledgments, which revealed that the book was written in response to a bill to “recriminalize” abortion in Canada. The author admits she was “angry” when she wrote it, and boy, does that show. Perhaps she should have cooled off a bit before writing something with such an obvious agenda.
I will say that the book ended nicely (but may not have been terribly realistic) and gave Hermione some closure. Will I read anything else by this author? Probably not, but only because her other books don’t interest me. The writing itself was good, if a little bland, and the author used that irritating YA trope of putting everything in first person present tense.
That will be the last time I read a “staff pick” at the library. Most of them are obviously political, but this one didn’t seem so at first glance. I was tricked. 🙂