The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
Young Adult Fiction
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 22, 2016 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
From the publisher:
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 book was both easy to read, and incredibly hard. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. It drew me in so totally, and so immediately.
Eden starts off as this completely innocent, sweet fourteen-year-old. Something terrible happens, and she has to grow up so quickly. She’s confused, hurt, silenced. She wants to tell someone; she really really does. But as each moment slips by without her telling, it gets harder and harder to do. So she just doesn’t.
She does everything she can to regain control of herself and her life—or what she thinks will do that. It’s heartbreaking to go through this journey with her knowing that there is nothing you can do. You just want to hug her and get the people around her to open their damn eyes. But it’s not their fault. It’s not her fault. It’s his fault.
Eden is a very well crafted character. You feel for her, you get to know her, you see the way she pushes everyone away. You see how she evolves, and how she becomes who she becomes. You see her there beneath the emotional scar tissue.
Smith tells this story beautifully. I liked the way that it’s broken up into segments—Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years. You see how Eden evolves and the lasting consequences that night has on her. How the hurt just keeps building and building. It was a great way to view Eden’s growth.
I’ve read a few YA books over the last year about sexual assault and the impact of rape culture. There seem to be more coming out lately, and I think that’s a really good thing. These are stories that need to be told. We need to have our eyes opened, our hearts ripped out, until we can stop this from being such a prevalent issue in the real world. You know someone like Eden. Whether you realize it or not. How many more Edens do there have to be before we do something?
Not only does this book cover the difficult topic of rape, but it deals with slut-shaming, too. People who didn’t really know her wanted to put her in a box, explain her away. They put labels on her. Slut. Whore. Bitch. They knew nothing about her and what she was going through, but they had to explain her. This was hard for Eden. At first. But then those names added an easy cover for her. She could hide behind them. See? No one made her this way. She wants to be this way. She just doesn’t care. It’s so sad because as soon as these names are slapped on her, no one really sees her anymore. She was just Eden McSlutty. That’s who she is, all she is.
Although it’s hard to get through, we don’t just see Eden crashing and burning. We see her rising from the ashes, too.
Another thing I really appreciated about this book is that Eden isn’t “saved” by a romance. No one can truly “save” her but herself. Also, huge kudos to Smith for making me care about Eden so damn much.
A seriously amazing book. I cried really hard. I recommend this to all the humans in all the places. (Well, 14 and up.)
Beth O’Brien is a library assistant and book blogger. Born and raised in Atlantic Canada, she lives in picturesque Nova Scotia with her cat Edith. You can often find her rocking double denim with her nose in a book and a craft beer in her hand. Follow her on Twitter @fuelldbyfiction.