For What It's Worth

Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith


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. ~

Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

This book was like a punch to the gut. It cut so close to home and the experiences of several friends
of mine who were sexually assaulted that I had to stop reading several times because it felt so real.

Of course, no two assaults are the same and there isn’t only one way to react or recover. This was Eden’s journey, told in four parts from the time of the rape – when she was a “good girl”, a quiet girl, a geek girl – starting out at high school, through the three years after the rape.

Eden is raped by her brother’s best friend, a good friend of the family, in her own home, and doesn’t tell anyone out of fear.

Who would believe mousy Eden over him? He's a popular, well loved guy. It would destroy her parents and brother who love him like a brother and son. This causes a lot of complex emotions within Eden. She idolizes her brother yet resents him for not knowing what happened to her and for not protecting her.

She goes through all the complex emotions of wanting…needing to tell, yet fearful of the outcome until she pushes it way deep inside but of course she can’t truly forget.

As Eden’s behavior becomes more erratic – she’s angry, drinking, sleeping around – her friends and family try to find out what’s wrong but because they don’t understand what is really going on underneath the surface, it’s often with a judgmental, accusatory tone. They write it off as her being one of those moody, selfish teenagers and that just sends Eden further into herself.

There is a boy and a romance but it’s not written in the typical way that I usually see in these types of books. It’s her first relationship and love *after* but Eden has no way to navigate all the feelings and memories it brings to the surface. Josh is a really nice, patient guy but he can’t figure out what sets her off or why she runs so hot and cold.

Josh sees Eden as beautiful but Eden sees herself as a crime scene.

“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. it’s a fucking crime scene. Hideous things have happened here,…”
There is no boy to ride in to save the girl. Eden keeps spiraling out of control until she finally hits rock bottom and reaches out to an unlikely person.

I’ve read several books about sexual assault and as I mentioned earlier there is no one or correct way to deal with the aftermath but The Way I Used to Be was so accurate to what my friends went through that it made my heart hurt.

I just want to touch on a few things here.

When people, especially teens, act out or act completely out of character – they’re telling you something. Listen. Quietly, without interruption or judgement…LISTEN. Eden’s family is shocked by her bizarre change in behavior. They try to ask what’s wrong multiple times and mean well but they don’t really want to hear. They want her to just go back to being quiet. That’s not the same and isn’t helpful.

We’ve seen how girls have been treated after speaking up about assault. Even if it was recorded and witnessed by dozens of people we STILL don’t believe the victim. And we judge their behavior afterwards. Until you are in a person’s shoes you have NO idea what it’s like. It’s easy to say “I would have just gone to the police – told someone – fought back…whatever... but the truth is you do what you have to to survive. So STFU.

Eden is frequently slut-shamed. By strangers, friends and even family. Some of it rather aggressive and threatening. I suppose it’s difficult to understand that a person who was violently assaulted would become promiscuous but every person experiences trauma differently. Promiscuity, changes in personality (from outgoing to quiet or from quiet to aggressive or angry for example), drinking, drug use, isolation are all signs that something is wrong.

So yeah…this book felt personal so my review got lecture-y – sorry but I do want to say that even though this book is dark and emotional without a giant happy bow at the end it is hopeful and empowering and a must read.

The author included information to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) so I’ll also add it here:

RAINN website | Hotline 1-800-656 HOPE (4673) available 24/7 – Free. Secure. Confidential

Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long , and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.

As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means. ~

Source: ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review


The Art of Being Normal is told through the alternating pov’s of two transgender teens – David (trans girl) & Leo (trans boy). What I loved about the two different characters is that their experiences, although similar, were also unique to them. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds, are at different stages of transitioning, telling friends and family and have experienced different levels of transphobic bullying.

David/Kate and Leo are two very different people. While David/Kate is scared to reveal her secret – she’s still optimistic and joyful overall, while Leo is wary, angry and closed off after a lifetime of disappointment. Yet they form a tentative friendship – which does not turn romantic. A trap I thought the author was going to fall into but thankfully didn’t.

I also liked how TAoBN showed some of the struggles transgender teens go through. Some obvious like bullying but also gender dysphoria, dating and family reactions while still making this a somewhat lighthearted story about the universal desire for love and acceptance and teenage awkwardness.

After a strong start, the story flounders a bit and struggles to take off but picks back up around the 100 pg mark. There’s a side story about Leo’s father that acts as a catalyst for several events for both Leo and David/Kate but felt a little unnecessary.

One thing that did strike me as odd though - was how both the author and Leo addressed David after she revealed herself as Kate. The author herself still titles Kate’s chapters as David and Leo still calls Kate he/David most of the time. Would Leo do that? Shouldn't he know better? It felt wrong and disrespectful to everything that Kate was trying to do and be and the message the author was trying to send.

I rarely read other reviews before writing mine but I wanted to see if anyone from the LGBQT community mentioned this. Maybe there was something I was missing or didn't understand but several reviewers did bring it up as well.

The Art of Being Normal was a sweet story that focused more on friendships and family instead of romance and I really appreciated that. It stumbles at times with slow pacing and soap opera style twists but overall is quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Music: FOREIGN AIR –Free Animal, In the Shadows

I’m seeing the X Ambassadors (Unsteady, Renegades) in June and one of the opening acts is Foreign Animal so I checked them out and I love them! Should be an amazing show.

Check them out and let me know what you think…

Foreign Animal – Facebook | Twitter