By Amber Smith
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (March 22, 2016)
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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.
“Because whatever he thinks I am, I’m not. And whatever he thinks my body is, it isn’t. My body is a torture chamber” (ARC).
THE WAY I USED TO BE broke my heart. See it over there? In the corner? It’s the red muscle and blood torn to pieces. I read this book on my plane from from Dallas to Las Vegas. I began it and I finished it and oh my goodness I had to choke back the ugly sobs because it hurts. It hurts real bad.
This book is divided into four parts: Freshman year, Sophomore year, Junior year, and Senior year. The first page begins with Eden’s rape; it accounts all the things that she doesn’t know why she didn’t do. Why she didn’t lock the door. That first one, that one hurts the most. She questions why she felt safe enough with a boy who she’s known since she was young-who’s her brother’s best friend- to keep her bedroom door unlocked. The scene isn’t graphic at all, but that’s because Eden can’t let herself be in her own body. It feels very removed. The rest of this book is all-consuming.
THE WAY I USED TO BE follows Eden’s spiral into a different person; she buries who she used to be. The trauma, the frantic “shutupshutupshutup” sewn into her memory. The removal of her own sense of self-worth. I was terrified of this book: the POV a girl whose trauma from her rape and the betrayal of someone who she trusted festers in her bones.
All that being said, I love this book. I think this book is important. I think it deserves all the stars. I think that everyone needs to read it. I think that this book takes into account the culture of shame that has been developed. The one where there is more shame is speaking up and holding a person accountable than there is is keeping silent and the one where if you do speak up, the survivor believes that their story won’t be believed. THE WAY I USED TO BE takes all of this and mold it into a story where Eden is a girl who represents a society of survivor, whose stories aren’t new ones, but one’s we still struggle to grasp.
Not all of the survivors are going to deal with the trauma the same way Eden does; some are going to go to therapy, some won’t want a single person to touch them, and other’s still will take different routes. The point is that every single one has a voice and is just as valid as the ones before.
I wish I could tell you everything that happens, but I won’t. This book is so very necessary and so very worth reading. I wish books like this were the ones on our school reading list.
“…don’t be hurt by me, don’t leave angry and destroyed. Don’t you know I’m not worth it?” (ARC).