Book Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

Book: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

Published March 2016 by Margaret K Elderberry Books|367 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

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.

Before I start reviewing, rape, drugs and drinking are things that we see in the book, and therefore, are mentioned in this review.

When I saw that this book was in the tradition of Speak, I knew I had to read it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t like it, and if the reviews and ratings are any indication, I am clearly in the minority.  It definitely didn’t live up to Speak, though I do see some comparisons between the two- both books follow a teen as she deals with the aftermath of rape, and not saying anything, I do think speak did it a lot better

I felt for Eden, I really did.  No one should have to go through what she went through, and unfortunately, her story in one that happens frequently.

Even with everything she’s going through, I found that Eden was a hard character to like.  She had some self-destructive tendencies, and it was hard to watch her downward spiral of sex, drugs and alcohol.  There are some great books about teens dealing with rape, like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Some Boys by Patty Blount, and I think those add a lot more to both YA in general, but particularly when discussing rape, its aftermath, and how we treat rape victims.  I thought this book didn’t really add anything to that.

The span of time could have been interesting, but the structure of the book didn’t work at all, and I thought it was, well, a mess.  I felt like huge gaps of time were missing.  I know things for Eden weren’t easy, and she was dealing with something traumatic on her own, and she didn’t know who she was anymore.  She didn’t seem interested in things she really liked, and clearly the drugs, sex, and alcohol were her way of numbing the pain and trauma of what happened.  I get everyone deals with things differently, and by no means am I judging her for that.  I hope she gets the help she needs.

The structure, though…one minute, she’s hanging out in the library during her lunch and has glasses, and the next thing you know, she’s wearing contacts, has dropped out of things like band, and is the complete opposite of who she was just months earlier.  Her parents are another good example of missing time- one minute, they’re mom and dad, and they are seen talking, but the next thing you know, she’s calling them by their first name, and they communicate solely by notes in the kitchen.  When did that happen?  I feel like things needed to be filled in a little more, because it felt like parts of her downward spiral were being skipped in favor of nothing that I actually care about.

I don’t know what to think of her relationships with her family and friends.  And by friends, I really mean Mara, who seemed to be her only friend.  She’s fighting with her parents, her brother doesn’t seem to care about her, and Mara tries, but eventually can’t take Eden’s behaviour anymore.  I mean, she seemed to change pretty drastically, and yet, we never see her parents question it.  So either she was really good at hiding things and sneaking around, or they didn’t seem to care, at least from what we see in the book.

But when you consider the fact that it seemed like Smith skipped over some things, maybe her parents did try to do or say something but we never saw it.  And why did it seem to take so long for Cameron and Mara to say something to her?  I don’t get it, but sure, let’s take a while to say something about how our friend is acting.

Let’s talk about the ending before I wrap this up.  I am glad that she finally said something, but I was a little sad by what it took for her to say something.  I know everyone is different, and like I said earlier, I hope she gets some help and deals with what happened in a healthy way.  Was the ending emotional?  Of course it was.  I’m not completely heartless, and I was crying.  I hate saying this, I really do, but I’m going to say it anyway: by the ending, I just didn’t care what happened to Eden, and it was too late.  While I didn’t like Amanda (from the glimpses we saw), Amanda saying something led to Eden finally saying something, and hopefully that is a good start for her.

What happened to her shouldn’t happen to anyone, and the sad reality is that it does happen.  While this book clearly isn’t for me, it could be for someone else.

1 star.  The structure of the story didn’t work for me, and it felt like parts of Eden’s story were left out.  This book didn’t work for me but don’t let that keep you from picking up this book if it’s up your alley.

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