Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith


Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: March 22, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 384
Goodreads || Book Depository

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.


2 stars

This book was a missed opportunity. Ostensibly, this book explores rape and the effects of rape or sexual assault on victims, but what I read was a four year journey of self-destruction and recklessness on the part of the main character. For me, it was 300+ pages of not much substance.

At the beginning of the novel, 14-year-old Eden is raped by her older brother’s best friend. She doesn’t tell anybody what happened to her and holds the secret inside of her throughout high school. This book follows her journey from freshman year to senior year. Which was the first problem that I had with it. Because the book spans such a long amount of time, nothing is really explored in detail. There were lots of time skips and things just seemed to happen out of the blue. One day she’s chugging along nicely at school and the next she’s being bullied and called a whore. One day she’s calling her parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ and the next she’s calling them by their first names (which was really confusing when it first happened because I thought they were new characters that randomly appeared). I would have preferred to see the catalysts for these events, rather than a general overview of her high school life. The story just lacked depth and I felt really disconnected from everything that was happening. I also didn’t think that the novel was very well-resolved at all. I just wanted a lot more from the plot.

Eden is probably my least favourite main character I’ve ever read about. She was so incredibly dislikeable and just… nasty. Initially, she was an okay character. I enjoyed that she wasn’t the typical popular girl who became reclusive after going through a traumatic experience. She was the nerdy girl who blended in with everybody around her, and I appreciated the message that these things can happen to anybody. However, Eden quickly became very frustrating and dislikeable. She reinvents herself to disconnect from the naive and innocent person who went through that traumatic experience. But I was extremely frustrated by the fact that she thought that the person she wanted to be and the person she “could stand to be” was somebody who smokes multiple cigarettes a day. She ditches her friend because she doesn’t want to be seen with someone uncool, and pretty much just acted like a bitch to everybody around her. She was selfish and constantly lied to everyone. She was just a horrible person who used the people around her without a thought for their feelings.

I just didn’t think that this book delivered very good messages to young readers. I didn’t approve of any of the things that Eden did in this book. She engages in a lot of drinking, smoking and pretty much has sex with every guy who looks at her (she mentioned that she’s been with 100 guys). She  throws tantrums and snaps at everyone around her, especially her parents, who seem to always be either absent or extremely passive. While I can appreciate that this is a depiction of one fictional character’s experience with rape, and the confusion and thoughts that come with having gone through such an experience, I don’t think this book presents a good message for readers who might have gone through a similar experience. Younger readers might think that it’s acceptable to behave in the same reckless and irresponsible way that Eden behaves, or that people aren’t victims of rape if they don’t act in such a way. I thought that the whole issue was handled terribly and I had no idea what the message of the book was besides the fact that you should probably report these things if they happen to you. Oh, and that it’s okay to be extremely rude and disrespectful to your parents and everybody around you because you’ve been through a tough time.

My opinion seems to be an unpopular one since most people on Goodreads have rated this 5 stars and loved it. But for me, this was a total let down. It hardly explored the issues that I thought needed to be addressed and ultimately, it was just a 300 page book about a dislikeable girl who engaged in reckless and undesirable behaviour until she lost all of her friends and hit rock bottom. If you’re looking for a book about rape or sexual assault, I wouldn’t recommend this one at all.


15 thoughts on “Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

  1. Reg | She Latitude says:

    I’m so sorry you didn’t like this! This was on my TBR a while back but I just dropped it because I kind of lost interest. I was going to pick it back up again if reviews turn out to be good, but I think what you mentioned would bother me too, particularly the main character being unlikeable and the whole wrong messages thing. It’s really unfortunate because the premise was promising. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      I was expecting this one to be super duper good because of the topic and because there are so many rave reviews. But sadly it was kinda half-baked. The MC was just way too nasty for me to care about her and, while I do understand her downward spiral, it just wasn’t enjoyable to read and lacked some of the key messages that I thought it should have included.


      • Reg | She Latitude says:

        I find it hard to like MCs who are nasty, especially those who know they’re nasty and yet make no amends to be better. And that’s unfortunate about the key messages — it really does make many books, particularly contemporaries in my experience, a hit or miss.


  2. Marie @ drizzleandhurricanebooks says:

    Thank you for this review, Jenna! I’ve seen this book around,but I didn’t add it to my TBR, I’m not sure why, there are so many great reviews about it on Goodreads. But I’m glad I read yours, because the main character sounds like one I would be SO annoyed at for the whole story, I don’t think I could go past that. It’s so sad though, I feel like this could have explored very well such an important issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lois says:

    I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy this book. I had my eye on the book for a while but over time my interest waned. The timeline of this book did raise a few warning flags because I was worried that we wouldn’t get an in-depth exploration to the matter at hand. Rape is such a sensitive topic and it’s so easy to get lost in that portrayal of the impact it has on a person that it start to look like a major exaggeration and send out the wrong message to those that have faced a similar situation. I think I’ll have to give this book a pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      The timeline was definitely off in this one. Everything just seemed to happen out of the blue and it felt very dramatic because of that. I just didn’t get a good sense of why things were happening and what caused them to happen, which was the downfall of the book for me. It could’ve been such a great book but I felt so disconnected from everything that was happening. The majority of reviewers have loved it though so maybe it’s just me…but I wouldn’t recommend it anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence says:

    Eden sounds like pretty much a horrible person that I can’t relate to either! Like you’d totally question her life choices and you’re right, it doesn’t send a particularly healthy message at all :/ fair enough she’s been through some life trauma, but does that give her that excuse to be a bitch to anyone? Man, this book sounds tough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Yeah she was particularly nasty. I really liked one of the love interests in the book but then he started giving off really masochistic vibes because he kept coming back even though she was treating him like shit. I just felt so bad for all of her friends and her family as well.


  5. Trisha Ann says:

    The plot looks unique and wonderful. I know none/a few authors who tackle rape in YA. I think this is a great opportunity for diversity but alas, as how you found it, it didn’t serve the purpose. *sigh* Love your honest review, Jenna 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Prima says:

    I hate it when an author doesn’t give us reasons! It just makes the character really unrelatable. It’s disappointing that a book with such a deep topic doesn’t give enough depth. Eden sounds so annoying as well… I don’t think I’ll be picking this one up anytime soon :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Yeah, I just couldn’t connect with the main character and honestly didn’t really care what happened to her. It was so uncomfortable to read about her downward spiral because it didn’t seem like it was a product of what happened… It just seemed like she was a massive bitch. It definitely could have been handled a bit better.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ksenia says:

    Thanks for your honesty, Jenna. I have the feeling that some readers are hesitant to write negative review on a book that deal with such topic as rape.


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