[Content warning: The Way I Used to Be and this review discuss rape.]
I picked up The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith at the ABA’s Winter Institute in Denver as one of about 100 books. I had the opportunity to meet the author at a Simon & Schuster sponsored dinner I attended, and she was so genuine and passionate about the way she talked about this story and the emotional journey she took in writing it. Although the story itself is fictional, the emotions behind it are very real, and ones that I knew I related to as a woman who’s been the victim of abuse. We bonded over similar experiences, and I knew I had to read this book right away. I started reading that evening when I got back to my hotel room, and by the time the plane landed home in New Orleans, I’d cried so much, I’m fairly certain I left the people sitting next to me on the plane wondering what my deal was.
The Way I Used to Be opens with a fourteen year old girl named Eden being raped by her older brother’s best friend. The rest of the novel follows her over her high school journey as she deals with the emotional aftermath of abuse. It may sound a bit intense, and that’s because, in parts, it is. But at its core, this book is about a young woman just trying to find her place in the world while fighting her own monsters, something to which almost anyone can relate. There are themes of bullying, first relationships, best friendships, rebellion, and acceptance. The story itself is fairly simple – this young woman is dealing with a traumatic event the best way she knows how. There isn’t a ton of action; however, the book isn’t about action – it’s about emotion. And the emotions are what Amber Smith just nails perfectly.
Smith explores what it means to be abused and how the emotions behind that influence one’s thoughts and behaviors, how it influences all of one’s relationships (not only the romantic ones), and how when one is abused in some way, it’s so easy to let it be the defining thing in one’s life. She also touches on the powerlessness, hopelessness, self-worth issues, and berating of one’s self that come along with those emotions. All of this may sound a bit dark and depressing, but Smith presents these issues and this story in a way that’s not dark and depressing – just real life. This is a story about a young woman just living her life, trying to make it, and trying to figure out her place in the world. And isn’t that something we’re all trying to do?
I’d recommend this book for any person who’s been, or knows someone who’s been, abused and/or bullied. I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s ever felt that they’ve lost their way. And I’d especially recommend this book for young men to help them understand what it means to be a young woman in the world today. Unfortunately, millions of people have, in some way, shared Eden’s experience, and these are the real stories that are continuously suppressed, even though they desperately need to be told. This book is so important, and I commend Amber Smith for putting this story out into the world.
The Way I Used to Be will be released in hardcover by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in March 2016 for $17.99. It will be available everywhere books are sold (but I always recommend finding your local indie bookstore!).
And if you’ve been the victim of abuse, there are always people who are willing to listen. For free, confidential, and secure support, call the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or visit RAINN online at rainn.org.