The Way I Used To Be – Amber Smith – Margaret K. McElderry Books – Published 22 March 2016
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.
The Way I Used To Be is beautiful and horrible book. Beautiful because of the way it is written, the characters and the messages of resilience and strength, horrible because it is completely agonising to see Eden go through what she does. And the way these two aspects are combined, balanced perfectly is what makes this such a great book.
Told in four sections, the four years of high school, we experience the initial impact of Eden’s sexual assault and the way it slowly changes her life. In this way we see how long-lasting the effect of the attack is, and how it affects all aspects of her life, including her trust in her family, her friendship with Mana, the way she dresses, and how she interacts with others.
Eden’s major changes in her life are prompted by others, especially when rumours are spread about her promiscuity. While the opposite is true, it seems easier for Eden to fall into this role, wrap it around her as it offers some form of protection even as it pushes everyone away.
While the focus of this book is Eden and how she reacts and changes after being raped, there is an element of romance. Josh is perfect in this role. I love his mix of confidence and insecurity. He likes Eden but has no idea how to react to her hot and cold swings as she tries to balance her feelings with those of panic and loss of control.
The story opens with Eden’s attack. While the details are sparse, it is a hard-hitting scene in the way the reader connects immediately with Eden, experiencing her confusion, horror and numbness. As the following minutes, days and months pass, Eden’s life spirals even further out of her control, even while she takes action on being stronger, more willing to stand apart.
When her family don’t notice, brush the signs off, Eden reacts by becoming increasingly argumentative and destructive. I kept waiting for the big fall out, the impending chaotic disaster, but despite Eden becoming increasingly destructive through sex, alcohol and even drugs, she never really loses control. It’s the little changes the say the most, such as Eden calling her parents by their first names instead of mom and dad. Throughout all this Eden remains a really likeable character and I was surprised by how strong, how tough she is. I was kind of impressed by the way she stands up for herself, even if she can’t bring herself to share her ultimate secret. So there is no Big Bang-like disaster, just a gradual change in how she approaches things.
The four chapters offer readers a continuous view of Eden. Even though a lot of time is skipped, it never felt like we were missing sections or that Eden had changed dramatically from one section to another. Instead it flows beautifully. But there comes a point in any novel that the character must choose to either let things continue progressing as they are or stop and speak out, and I thought this was well crafted, allowing Eden to be the true star of this book.
The treatment of girls according to their sexual habits (or rumoured sexual habits, you know that awful phrase to which I’m referring) is a large part of this story. The rumours are started about Eden long before she begins sleeping around. Despite how the main populous treat Eden, her friend Mara remains a true friend, concerned but never judging. The same can be said of Josh, even if he struggles to understand.
The ending is just absolutely perfect, everything you could want, and it only reinforces that this book is about Eden and ability to stand up for herself, believe in herself. My favourite line is “and I’m just a girl, a girl who needs to pick up her own pieces and put them back together herself.” That says it all.
A confronting, beautiful book that just has to be shared.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Sexual assault, resilience, friendship, family, bullying.
Reading age guide: Ages 14/15 and up.
Advisory: Strong sexual references, details of rape scene, implied sexual scenes. Frequent coarse language, f***, s***, sl**, bit**.
Published: 22 March 2016 by Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook. 384 pages.