Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith


I'm honestly kind of shocked that this was in the cruise ship library because it was as depressing as all get out and actually left me in a little bit of a funk. I have a hard time envisioning this as someone's beach read, you know? But that said, it was still an amazingly good read. The comparisons to SPEAK are on point, although I think it's a more mature work in some ways because of how morally ambiguous Eden is. It takes a lot of skill to make an unlikable heroine so sympathetic, and even though Eden does demonstrate a lot of toxic behaviors and can be quite cruel, you can definitely see where she's coming from.

When Eden was just fourteen, she was raped by her older brother's friend. He sneaked into her bed and told her he'd kill her if she told. After that, she's never quite the same. She can't tell anyone what happened, so she ends up internalizing it and trying to grab control wherever she can. She quits band, she starts acting like a control freak in her book club, and she starts changing her appearance. Then she starts hooking up with guys, becoming quite promiscuous. Almost like she's trying to play out what happened, but with full control.

The book is carved into four parts: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. In these sections, Eden makes new friends and loses them, and complicates all of her relationships with her trauma. Because she never tells anyone what happened to her, people don't know why she's acting the way she does, and sometimes the effects are heartbreaking. I honestly had a tightness in my chest when I finished because I was so worried about the outcome, but it ended up being kind of bittersweet. That's why I think this is a book for older teens as opposed to younger ones: the heroine isn't as likable as heroines of other rape-focused books, like JUST LISTEN or SPEAK, and the morality isn't quite as clear-cut, nor is the ending quite as satisfying.

That said, I think books like these are very important because there really is no right way to be a victim, and even if you wear revealing clothes or sleep around, rape is still rape. Painting people as "ideal victims" contributes to rape culture and makes it easier to write off testimony. So I'm really glad that books like this exist, which explore what trauma looks like in more muddied waters. Bless the morbid and gloomy person who brought this book onto the cruise ship so that I could read it, too.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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