It’s Canadian teenager Hermione Winters’ senior year. She’s co-captain of her school’s cheer team, and she’s very serious about it. For her and her best friend Polly, cheer is a sport, and she is an athlete. In fact, for her small town school, the Palermo cheer team is the best sports team they have. But at cheer camp, right before the start of senior year, Hermione is drugged and raped by an unknown boy, and suddenly all the plans she had made for her final year of school and cheer are upended.
This is a very smart, compassionate examination of what it’s like to recover from such a traumatic event. Unlike in a lot of other stories that focus on such traumatic events like rape, Hermione isn’t just a victim whose situation is milked for drama; she has a true emotional arc, learning to deal with the new self that has replaced her previous carefree existence. Johnston is also ridiculously good at portraying the nuances of Hermione’s situation.
The whole time I was reading, I did keep thinking how lucky Hermione was. I know that probably sounds horrible. Being raped no matter the circumstances would be terrible. But so many rape victims do not have the support system she had. Her friends (seriously, everyone should have a Polly), her parents, her teachers and her coach. Her cheer team. Aside from some malicious gossip near the beginning of her experience, some nasty stuff from her ex, and whispers from people she doesn’t really know doing the victim blaming thing, Hermione is largely left alone to deal with her trauma in her own way without really having to deal with other people’s bullshit as well. She has the backing of the police, who are never in doubt that she was actually raped. There is physical evidence that she was drugged. She has the support of counselors and therapists who are uniquely qualified to help her. Almost her entire community (minus a few naysayers) believes her. And she doesn’t know the identity of her rapist, even though most rapes are committed by people known by the victim. There is no one on the other side, standing up for her attacker and saying, “Oh, but he’s such a nice guy, he would never do this!”
I’m not saying this is bad, it’s just something I was thinking while reading, especially having recently read Missoula, and just how bad it can get for victims, especially ones who speak up and wish to prosecute. (P.S. Go read that book.) In fact, part of me thinks Johnston did all of this very much on purpose, as if by giving her character all of these things, she was trying to give them to other people as well.
Anyway, all of this is to say the book is great, and thought-provoking, for all that it’s a quick read. I recommend checking it out for sure. Hermione and her friends are lovely people (funny, even, despite everything that happens), and I don’t regret spending time with them in the least. I would especially recommend this for young adults (of both sexes). You know, the actual audience this book was meant for.
(And don’t think I didn’t notice that reference to Topher’s drawer of inappropriate starches, Ms. Johnston! I did! I noticed!)