The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

Image result for the way i used to be smith

  • My rating: 3.9/5 stars (petty, but I don’t want to give it 4 full stars lol)
  • Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • 385 pages
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • TW: rape, sexual assault

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

Read my spoiler-free review and discussion below.

This book is about a girl named Eden, who is raped by her brother’s best friend when she is only thirteen years old. The Way I Used to Be was tough to read; it’s heavy, unflinching, gritty, and all too realistic. I warn that victims of sexual assault may find it very difficult to get through this book, but it truly shows the importance of healing and relationships when it comes to the aftermath of trauma. As someone who has never experienced anything like Eden, I was heartbroken and angry over her choice of staying silent. Like in Anderson’s novel, Speak, at first I was baffled as to why a victim of assault wouldn’t look for help. I think The Way I Used to Be was a bit more helpful in explaining the seeming impossibility of stepping forward. I know that I can never fully understand the trauma faced by those who have been sexually assaulted, but this book brought me a step closer, and for that I’m grateful, and humbled. Books like these are terrible because they reveal the unwavering truth of the world, with no filter, but it is for the same reason that books like these are absolutely necessary. I think it is because of books like this, and because of brave women and men around the world, that sexual assault is being reported and punished at increasing rates. It is great that victims are beginning to feel supported enough to say “Me too”, but it is also disheartening to see the number of people who have come forward. Rape is a heinous crime, but it should not be unspeakable. Books like these reveal the dire necessity of telling someone, anyone, of traumatic experiences. I don’t care what you were wearing, who you were with, how much you drank, who you were “leading on”. Your body is your temple, yours alone, and rape is not tolerated, ever, under any circumstance. The walls of rape culture are breaking down: we believe you. You are loved. You are supported, no questions asked.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline phone number: 1-800-656-4673

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National (RAINN) network phone number: 800.656.HOPE

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Now, I know this is a sudden shift, but this is a book review, so I’d like to move on from the heavy discussion for a quick run-down of my thoughts regarding other matters from the book. My main problem with the contemporary genre is that authors discuss poignant, important topics in ways that aren’t relatable to the teen audience, and this usually comes in the form of high school. I know this is petty and nitpicky considering the thoughtful way the novel dealt with trauma, but I just can’t overlook it. I don’t know the last time these contemporary authors went to high school…but it’s not the way they think it is anymore. I went to a pretty typical public school: sports-oriented and full of drama. My school might have been larger than most, but I don’t think that changes too much. The way Smith describes school is stereotypical: there are elite cliques, there are bullies in the lunchroom, there are mean girls writing “____ is a skank” on the bathroom walls. I graduated this spring, and after four years in school, I had never witnessed any of these things happen. School, horrible as it is, is pretty mundane. There’s lots of petty drama and kids trying to get high in the bathroom, but there are no jocks pointing and laughing at you in the hallway. Seriously, it just doesn’t happen. Obviously this isn’t the point of the story, but I just wanted to talk about it really quick, because it’s an aspect of YA contemporary that’s bugged me for a long time. Yes, there are mean girls and stoners and “outcasts”…but most people are generally normal. Not only that, but they’re pretty decent to each other–not out of manners or kindness, but because–wait for it–they don’t really give a shit. They don’t care about some girl who the rumors say slept with 5 guys from the football team. What’s it to them? Okay, that was a really long rant, I’m sorry about that.

This review/discussion was totally uncohesive and all over the place…but I had a lot of thoughts about this book and I wanted to get them written down. Please feel free to leave a comment about your thoughts as well–on the book or the topic of sexual assault. I am glad to listen.

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