The Way I Used To Be Review
The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith: My Review
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Maybe he'll get what he deserves. Maybe not. Maybe I'll never find it in my heart to forgive him. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that either. All those maybes swimming around my head make me think that "maybe" could just be another word for hope.
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about The Way I Used To Be. When I heard it was a book about the aftermath of trauma, I was immediately drawn to it, 1) because sad books are my thing, and 2) I'd surprisingly never before read a contemporary that focused on rape and its impact on a survivor. While I did enjoy Eden's story (well obviously I didn't enjoy it, but you know what I mean), I did have a few issues with the novel overall which was disappointing.
The story is told over the course of four years - freshman, sophomore, junior, senior - and we follow Eden as she grows up carrying a huge secret - she was raped by her brother's best friend. As she gets older, Eden's voice and personality changes in a very natural way which I thought was really well executed and realistic. Smith explores how Eden's relationships with her family, best friend and fellow classmates become extremely turbulent and fragile, forcing her into a downward spiral that she eventually gives into, resorting to chain-smoking and excessive drinking before she even turns sixteen.
Unfortunately, though, I did not like Eden whatsoever. In fact, my dislike for her grew more and more as the novel went on. She is consistently hurting people, creating so many stupid problems for herself and makes some kind of horrible rash decision in pretty much every chapter. Now, I feel somewhat insensitive expressing this opinion because I'm sure a lot of people would argue that her harmful actions are just an expression of trauma and I am wrong to pass such harsh judgement on someone who is young and responding to a horrific event that is bound to have altered her perception of the world. And this is entirely valid. Although it may not sound like it, I am appreciative to Eden for exposing me to an experience unique to her and many other survivors of sexual assault, one that I cannot expect to understand. But what makes it slightly easier for me to write an 'insensitive' review is that this book is a work of fiction, not a real life account of a rape survivor.
There were a couple of things that really frustrated me about the writing of the book, the first being that I felt it didn't include enough about Eden before the rape happened, and skipped important plot points that were needed to show her gradual down slide - instead, it just skipped to the angst. I was expecting to really connect with Eden and feel huge sympathy for her. I was ready to be challenged as a reader, try to place myself in someone else's shoes. But her substance abuse and sleeping around to distract herself just irritated me because we got so much angst and barely any emotion, so I had no way of understanding how she was really feeling, what was leading her to make these choices. In my opinion, a lot of it felt more like a third person story - Eden exists in a vacuum of her own thoughts, and many of the relationships between her and other characters were one-dimensional and had me confused.
In fairness, this is the first book I've read with sexual assault as the focus, so I don't have any comparisons to draw between the portrayal in this book and in others. However, after reading The Way I Used To Be, I am left with the feeling that unless you know a lot about rape or are a rape survivor yourself, it is difficult to fully understand Eden's motives - and that is exactly what I'd hoped I wouldn't be writing in this review, because I wanted this book to open my eyes to the psychological mark left by this experience. Unfortunately, the lack of emotion meant that this wasn't quite fulfilled.