I’ve been waiting forever to get my hands on a copy of Amber Smith’s The Way I Used to Be. It comes up a LOT in lists of books about sexual assault survivors. So when my library emailed me that the digital copy I reserved was available I grabbed it right away.
What It’s About
The Way I Used To Be is a first-person narrative about Edy, a fourteen-year-old girl whose innocence is shattered one night when her older brother’s best friend, Kevin, sneaks into her room and forces himself on her. The story begins the morning after the rape and follows Edy through the rest of her high school career as she tries to deal with the trauma mostly on her own and gets more and more lost in self-destructive behaviors before finding her way back to herself. The book is divided into four parts, one for each year of school, which made it easy for me to read because I could read one part every night.
In the beginning of the book, Edy was a lot like me. I was totally shocked when in one of the first scenes she explained that her dad called her Minnie “as in Mouse.” I thought I was the only one who had that stupid nickname! (Mouse, not Minnie. No one has ever called me that, at least.)
Like me, Edy had this good girl persona and secretly hated herself for being so quiet. She thought that was why it happened and she didn’t want to be a mouse anymore. I totally identified with that and with her wanting to hide in the school library because other kids were calling her a slut and writing stuff about her on the bathroom walls. All of that was so similar to what happened to me that I connected totally with it. And when Edy met her first boyfriend, Josh, but was afraid to truly be with him because of the way she’d been hurt before, I was right there.
The first time she met Josh, he walked into her while she was carrying her clarinet and knocked her over and it made her hate him. I never felt that kind of blind rage, but there was this one time last year when I tripped over my shoelaces on the track and Brad tried to catch me but he ended up falling on top of me and I totally freaked out and then I was afraid I’d ruined everything.
Despite these familiar experiences, though, as the story moved forward I found it harder and harder to relate to Edy. She spiraled downward in ways that I never did and it… well, it triggered me. That’s the best way I can put it.
See, by the time Edy is my age, she’s sneaking out to parties like the one where I was roofied. She constantly has sex with random guys to try to forget the pain of her first sexual experience (a violent rape). There are several scenes where she’s drunk and following older guys into their bedrooms at these parties, and those were really tough for me to read because of what happened to me.
I kept holding my breath and praying she didn’t get raped a second time and there were a few times I wasn’t sure I could finish reading because it was too similar to what happened to me except for that she wanted to have sex with these guys and was acting like it was a good thing. There was even a scene where she stands up after one of these encounters and is super dizzy and more drunk than she thought she was and I was sure she’d been drugged just like I was.
I know it might seem ridiculous to be upset about something similar to a thing I can’t even remember, but that aspect of the story seriously upset me. It wasn’t just that she was going to the same kinds of parties where it happened to me. It was that I couldn’t connect with her desire to use alcohol and sex to numb her pain. I know that some people do deal with the trauma that way and I hope nobody thinks I’m judging them. I know my mom did stuff like that and that’s why she’s so hard on me.
But that was never me. I guess maybe I was lucky or maybe it’s my SADD training or both, but the worst thing I did was hide in my room crying because I couldn’t tell Molly that I had a fight with my parents over them pushing me to tell me why I was depressed without telling her what had happened to me. And then I realized if I didn’t tell her, then the rift between us was going to get wider and wider so I summoned up all my courage and I told.
I’m not saying that Edy was a coward, I swear I’m not. I just really had a hard time relating to all the self-destructive behavior she was engaging in even though I totally understood it, and I felt lonely because I felt like I was one of her book club friends that she would have ditched because she wanted to get rid of all vestiges of the good girl she once was.
The other thing that annoyed me was that her parents were oblivious to most of this. Her brother wasn’t. Every time he came home from college he’d get on her case about how she was drinking too much, but her parents never seemed to have any clue what was going on.
I guess I could give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they didn’t want to know, but still, how does Edy constantly break her curfew, get drunk/high, and lie to them at times that she does get caught without them knowing anything?
My mom is overprotective, but I couldn’t walk into the house messed up from being drugged without her noticing I looked like I was hungover.
I get not everyone’s the same. I mean, Brad’s dad is generally super laid back and he lets us hang out in the living room alone while mine never want us to be unsupervised for a second. But that doesn’t mean he’s clueless or that if Brad started staying out til all hours of the night and lying to him about where he’d been he’d take it all at face value.
I get them not figuring out she’d been raped. That’s not the sort of thing people realize if you don’t tell them, and it made sense that when her mom saw the blood in her bed the morning after she thought she’d just had a period that she wasn’t expecting. But her behavior got worse and worse and they never seemed to have any clue anything was wrong, and that annoyed me and disappointed me.
Please don’t think that means I hated the book, though. I don’t think Edy and I would be friends in real life, but I felt for her through the whole book. A lot of the things that happened to her and the choices she made made me angry or upset and I wanted her to find her way. That’s the important thing about a book, I think, that it makes you FEEL.
I also liked that at the end there was a paragraph on its own page telling real-life survivors how to contact RAINN if they need help. Books for survivors are never just fiction because what happened to us in real life is so overwhelming and painful.
Have you read The Way I Used To Be? If you did, what did you think about it? Tell me in the comments!
Hannah Rose Kollman can be found within the pages of Jack A. Ori’s novel, Reinventing Hannah. She is a senior at Dwight D. Eisenhower High in the fictional town of Cedarwood, NY, where she has worked hard to shed her quiet persona and taken on a leadership role in the fight against sexual assault on behalf of herself and other survivors. She is the current President of the Cedarwood chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions and regularly organizes sexual assault awareness and prevention programs for her school and community.