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. ~ Goodreads
Source: 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