In the United States, every 8 minutes, a child is sexually assaulted. This reality may be difficult to acknowledge and take action upon through simple statistics. However, through
personal narratives, like Eden’s story in The Way I Used to Be, I could much better comprehend the extent to which sexual assaults can shape an individual perception of life. Thus, this novel by Amber Smith furthered my ambition to advocate against sexual assault on school campuses.
The novel unravels from Eden’s perspective. Eden, called by Eddy by her friends, is a
typical freshman in highschool. She is a competitive member of her high school band, has a best friend named Mara, and lives with her family in a ordinary neighborhood. However, something is different about Eden as she attempts to proceed through her freshman year. On a Saturday night, Eden is raped by her brother’s best friend in her own room. Her raw afterthoughts are portrayed as, “…Why it didn’t register that something was wrong- somercilessly wrong- when I felt the mattress shift under his weight. Why I didn’t scream when I opened my eyes and saw him crawling between my sheets.” Like most other victims, Eden blames and even shames herself for being assaulted. To make matters worse, she does not tell a soul and goes about her life like nothing ever happened.
Unfortunately, the events of Saturday night takes a immense toll on Eden’s outlook on
life. Although no one knows besides her, Eden’s disposition is raginingly driven by anger and silent cry for help. Suffering from constant panic attacks and conflicts with her best friend Mara, she pushes her family and friends away, blows off their expectations, and begins to look for ways to completely distance herself from the innocent girl that she used to be. Her first opportunity comes forth in the form of a popular upperclassman from one of her classes. Eden’s response after their date truly encompasses her new ambition. “I sigh loudly… I leave without another word. I know he’s watching me as I walk toward my house. I make sure I don’t turn around until I hear the engine fade into the distance surrounding me.” From this scene, it is clear that Eden cares for Josh, but she is unable to open up to Josh due to the mental and emotional aftermath of her assault. Eden’s unusual ways of interaction towards others not only reflect her
struggle to adjust to a normal lifestyle, but also how difficult it may be for victims like her to accept and seek for help.
Unable to come forth to her family and friends, Eden’s anxiety and self-harm becomes a
norm in her everyday life. Her presence becomes common in the party-scenes and her
community labels her as a “slut” for her unprecedented behavior. Instead of fighting back, Eden assumes her label and slowly lets the clashing persona seep into her head. At a college party, she sleeps with a guy that she just met and has no true feelings for. She thinks to herself, “Josh. I see his smile. Feel his sweetness. His arms around me… As soon as my consciousness kicks in, he’s gone. But he was there just long enough and just clear enough to jolt me, to shock my system with a surge of fresh heartache.” Again, Eden’s inner thoughts confirms her one and only affection for Josh, but also her incapability to express herself.
The Way I Used to Be is a work of fiction. However, this does not discredit its value in
the realm of sexual assault advocacy, as it deals with true matters that can be related to by many survivors of sexual assault. Eden’s experience realistically depicts the harsh truth. There are many sexually assaulted victims that are suffering due to the mental, emotional, and physical aftermath of the assault. Furthermore, this time-dependent matter worsens as the victim is often denied of trust and rapid response. Unlike many others, Eden’s story ends on a fulfilling resolution. Her brother’s best friend is investigated and eventually put away in jail.
However, note that this resolution is not the usual outcome of many victims.
This novel is not a difficult read. However, I do believe that this functions as a tool for the
author to reach a more extensive range of audiences, which is a significant aspect of a book dealing with critical matters such as sexual assault. Amber Smith is an prominent advocate for more awareness of gendered violence, which includes sexual assault and LGBTQ equality. When she is not writing or reading, she focuses on making visual arts and working as an art consultant in her current home in North Carolina. Other works by Smith includes, The Last to Let Go and Our Stories, Our Voices. Other novels that explore similar topics such as this novel includes, We Believe You by Andrea E. Pino and Annie E. Clark and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.
Reviewed by Susie Y. ’18