The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith | Rating: ★★★★★
As a note, an e-galley of this novel was sent to me via Edelweiss by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.
There is a substantial amount of hype over The Way I Used to Be and the comparisons the reading community is making between it and Speak. But I feel as though that isn’t fair to compare either story to one another because while it tackles similar plots, they are both two entirely different stories with two entirely different girls and many different coping mechanisms between the two.
The Way I Used to Be is incredibly nerve wracking and painful and beautiful all at once. It is, by far, one of the most moving novels headed our way as 2016 approaches and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves in time. I can’t wait to get my hands on a physical, finished copy–it is still lingering in the back of my mind, nearly twenty-four hours after reading it.
That being said, I need only remind you guys that this book is quite triggering due to its subject matter and you should not put yourself in the position of reading it if you have doubts on whether or not it will trigger something in you.
Let’s talk about our leading lady–our narrator–shall we?
Eden is sincerely one of the most available characters I’ve ever read in many ways. I mean on that personal level; she is so real--the way Amber Smith paints this girl's story is all too real and a voice that was desperately needed in young adult fiction.
In many ways, there’s “before” and “after” to her personality and every year that passes, every year she struggles with what happened and doesn’t talk about it, the more you see her fade a bit. I found this to be very real and raw and it broke my heart seeing how she coped with everything. There’s something intimate about witnessing these changes she makes to herself through the course of four years; wanting control of her own life and body after having been raped by her brother’s best friend.
A lot of people are going to criticize her decision to stay silent. But I need to remind them of the boys actions and how severely they damaged her.
Eden was so young when it happened and with his violation of her, someone she trusted, it is easy to see why she reacts to it the way she does. Many times, you’re going to want to shake the people around her for how they acted as she began to act out and sleep around.
Or even before she started to have consensual sex with other boys–especially with all those rumors of her being a slut, spread about by the hand of a minor character named Amanda–Kevin’s, the boy who raped her, younger sister. Because of Kevin’s abuse and because of Amanda’s unexpected hatred towards her, Eden begins to spiral in some ways.
While it is a realistic approach to it, given that she doesn’t tell them anything and they simply wouldn’t guess, it still hurts to see it all unfold.
Sometimes I felt as though her best friend and family didn’t truly *try* to understand her.
Mara, Eden’s best friend, clearly noticed a change in her friend and expressed concern over her sexual habits but I felt very annoyed with the way it was approached. I was very annoyed that she, instead of trying to get to the bottom of her friends actions, chose to criticize and not find out what caused her to act out.
Again, it’s realistic. They are only teenagers. But I hated seeing the sparks fly towards the end of the novel when Mara, Cameron (Mara’s boyfriend) and Steve all but abandon her and can’t see that something is running deeper inside her. Eden doesn’t do the things she does without reason, she doesn’t act the way she does because she wants to: Eden has such a rough time coping with her past that it causes these issues to explode.
I hated that we didn’t get any closure on the topic of that rift between these characters. They have a fight, some words are exchanged in school (and during this, Amanda realizes now that Eden is more like her than she realized) and that’s that. We focus on tying up other loose ends and that’s okay, I just wish we could have seen them setting things right.
Even if it was just a flash forwards–after Eden gets the help she needs–of her telling Mara in particular what had happened. Although I’m still not sure Mara would have listened–truly listened.
Sometimes it felt as though the only person who would have understood her–if she had told them sooner–was a boy named Josh she “dated” briefly. He was very, very concerned about her even as they were hooking up and sensed something had happened to her to make her act the way she did, I think he was the only one who truly saw through her act, and I only wish she had told him sooner.
(Not that I blame her for not. Again, I understand why she couldn’t. I understand completely.)
Years down the road, after their relationship ended quite poorly, years of silence between the two, she confides in him. It’s amazing to see their connection wasn’t completely severed in the long run and I don’t mean that romantically. There’s just something there between the two and maybe it’s Josh’s caring nature but it’s definitely there.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they became lifelong friends and each others support system or if they tried their hands at a real relationship after life settled down.
As for the rest…
I got very frustrated with Caelin, Eden’s brother, and how he reacted towards a lot of things. In particular, her sex life and how he got so snippy about it. Big brother things and all that, but he rubbed me the wrong way for a good chunk of the novel until the last 10% of it.
Caelin and Kevin have been best friends for so long that I don’t think Caelin would have ever realized his friends real intentions towards people. And when Kevin is accused of raping an ex-girlfriend, Caelin stands firmly on his friends innocence.
Until Amanda comes forward. And she points the cops in Eden’s direction and suddenly, Eden isn’t able to stay silent anymore on her story. Caelin has a hard time accepting this revelation but unlike the ex-girlfriend, he believes his sister and I think even blames himself for not seeing the sign.
If anything, I’m glad we got to see Eden patch things up with her brother and Josh and it makes up for the lack of a finish in Mara, Cameron and Steve. Because these scenes at the end, they are the most important of the novel.
The truth is never simple and The Way I Used to Be is the perfect look into that. Eden’s story needed to be told and this is one of the most important young adult releases to tackle sexual abuse in recent times. Hands down.
I see a lot of people in Eden, a lot of survivors and I feel privileged to have been given the chance to get to know her. Her story means a great deal and although it’s fictional, it is all too easy to see the reality in it.
Amber Smith writes beautifully and doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles of a life after innocence is shattered. And I applaud her for approaching this subject in the way she did. My eyes were not dry when I finished, my heart was equal parts heavy and light, and I felt very, very attached by the final pages. I will say I highlighted plenty in my galley and chances are you will too. Quotes will be posted later once I have a finished copy to go off of.
If you know anyone, or if you yourself have suffered sexual abuse, please do not hesitate to talk to somebody about it. There are people who will hear you when others don’t. Resources are important to have on standby, should support be needed. Please visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest Nation Network at rainn.org or give them a ring at their hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE.