Book Review: The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith, reviewed by teen reviewer Lexi
About the Book
In the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an 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.
“My body is a torture chamber. It’s a fucking crime scene. Hideous things have happened here, it’s nothing to talk about, nothing to comment on, not out loud. Not ever. I won’t hear it. I can’t.”
This book is about changing yourself into someone you can actually stand to look at in the mirror every morning.
This book is about trying to forget. Forget how it happened. Forgot how it felt.
This book is about being empty and trying to fill yourself back up to full capacity again. Only, you can’t.
Eden’s story is like many others. Her fears and pains sing a familiar tune that many people know. This book is relatable in the way that we have all experienced something in our life that made us hate so strongly and want to change so badly. Some of us can relate to her abuse. Some of us can relate to her inability to look at self the same. Because no matter what situation we have been in, no matter how different, we have all experienced some kind of event that made us question why things happen the way they do and make us even question who is looking back at us in the mirror.
Eden is a strong girl. Brave in her words when able to speak them. Her story is beautifully written. SO much emotion was written in every word that it rippled through me as I read it. I could feel Edens loss of herself. Her struggle to make it to another day is both admirable and saddening. Her secret made my heart clench and my lungs restrict. She was too young but it still should have never happened to her. No person should ever have to experience sexual assault, and yet we still do everyday. And this is why we need books like this.
We need books that break that barrier. We need books that will tell a story of the world’s real horrors. Because the real monsters don’t live under your bed. No. The real monsters bide their time, waiting to get your trust so they can manipulate you. People like Kevin Armstrong are the real monsters. People who prey on other people are the ones our horror stories should really be about.
This novel reminds me a lot of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. That book shredded me apart. And as that one did, so did The Way I Used To Be. While reading this book i felt completely empty. Way past the point of sad, I read this book like it was the only thing I could do. Because after all, it was the only thing I could do. Reading this fictional, but probably true for someone else, story reminded me of the terror women face everyday. It reminds me to not always be so trusting, to only lock my door at night, because if Eden had she wouldn’t have been raped. She wouldn’t have had to endure the worse experience in her life. Maybe, if she would have locked her door, she could have prevented her own assault. But also, this book made me realize that she shouldn’t have had to lock her door. She should have felt safe in her own home.
We need these words to be spoken out loud. We need people to acknowledge that someone is sexuallay assaulted ever 107 seconds in the united states. We need rape victims to not be blamed for their rape. And we especially need to prosecute the monsters who do the assault no matter who they are.
This book needed to be written. I thank Amber Smith for writing it and I thank every other author who is brave enough to speak out about the silence victims face every day. Because with these books, with this book, we actually get hear from the victim.
10 out of 10 would read again.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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