Review: The Way I Used to Be

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Review for “The Way I Used to Be” by Amber Smith (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

As you’ve probably already heard, this is a book about the aftermath of a rape/sexual assault. It joins the plethora of other recent YA books I’ve read over the past few years about this very same subject: Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak,” Louise O’Neill’s “Asking for It,” and “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E.K. Johnston. Each book takes the female victim’s perspective in a different direction, with very different results and conclusions.

It took me almost 2 months to read this book. This is partly due to my horrible case of reading ADD (I’m always book-switching) and partly because this was absolutely exhausting to read. When the book opens, we meet Eden, a likable 14-year-old girl who is viciously raped by a friend of her older brother. She tells no one of the incident. We follow her over the next four years of high school as she tries to make sense of her assault by becoming more and more rebellious–sleeping around, drinking, using drugs, fighting with her parents. While these things should have kept me interested and on the edge of my seat, they didn’t. Instead of wanting to reach out to hug her, I wanted to grab her and shake her.

Any therapist will tell you that there’s a range of victim responses to the trauma of rape and sexual assault. Some may become withdrawn (Melinda from Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” stops talking), while others ‘act out’ with rebellious, angry behavior, as with the character of this book. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make reading about it any easier. I tried to suspend my judgements of Eden for this reason but each time I went to open it, it was more sex, more drugs, more drinking, more yelling at her parents about what glasses she wants to wear. Watching her downward spiral was truly frustrating, mind-numbing, and exhausting.

There is some hint of a healing process in the story, but it’s a very brief sliver at the end. I wish there had been more of this.

This is a great debut. It’s worth reading, but there’s no way I’d ever re-read this.

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