In The Way I Used to Be, Amber Smith doesn’t hold back, and jumps right in. In the very first chapter, Eden, the freshman band geek, is raped by her older brother’s best friend, Kevin, and then wakes up and has her usual pancake-and-orange-juice breakfast, with him sitting right across the table from her. She tries her best to tell her family, but no one listens to her silent cries, and freshman year goes on as if nothing ever happened. The dying of her hair over the summer was like the first shot of a war, spiraling downward to a life she knows isn’t right for her. She meets a boy, and despite his never-ceasing love for her, she feels trapped and angry as a result from the rape. Junior year, she is called the school slut, and is known for giving herself to men she doesn’t know, because it makes her feel more powerful and fills the gap her assault created. Before she knows it, she’s lost every single one of her friends, and is going deeper and deeper into the life she created to take herself away from her past. Then, senior year, her brother returns home distraught sharing that Kevin’s girlfriend has accused him of raping her, and Eden finds the voice she lost three years ago, and shares her experience.
Eden is one of thousands of rape victims, and this story gives insight into a life most people don’t understand. In the beginning of the book, Smith writes that Eden attempts to share the events of last night with her family, something most victims are unable to do. After contemplating his words “You won’t tell anyone, because no one will believe you,” she decides that what happened was her fault. She was the one that flirted with him last night, she was the one that didn’t lock her door, and she was the one that just sat there in shock, with no effort to stop him. The things that Eden does following her assault seem like a cry for attention, but in reality she does everything to forget about what happened. When she gives herself to countless men in a drunken haze, she doesn’t do it for attention, she does it because she is the one in control of what she does, not Kevin, as though he is following her around whispering in her ear ‘No one will listen to you.” When she snaps at people, she doesn’t do it so that they purposely get upset, she does it because she is afraid to tell them her experiences, and when she smokes, she doesn’t do it to kill herself or to be a “rebel,” she does it to forget about him in all the foggy air. Eden doesn’t want attention, she wants to show him, and even more herself, that what someone thinks they can do to you and how someone believes they can control your life does not dictate your future. Being able to get lost in her own freedom allows her to see that she is in control of her actions, and that her past doesn’t dictate her future. Someone like Kevin, that believes they are in control of others, and who can so easily take their weaknesses and insecurities and use them for him own advantages, is exactly the person Eden wants to stop herself from becoming.
Though the way Eden went about setting herself free was not the wisest, she did something that many people don't; change in an effort to forget. She recognized that Kevin was right about her not speaking up and living her own life, though that does not excuse what he did. She made up her mind that she was not going to let people walk over her, and from then on, she didn't. Kevin made her realize that if she didn’t do anything and continued to live life the way she did, she would be unhappy and completely controlled by others; it wouldn't even be her life. Eden’s ability to recognize that weakness and also recognize that she needed to change it, not because of Kevin or for Kevin, but for herself and her very own necessities really allows the reader to see insight into Eden and grow a certain respect for her character. For once, Eden was able to put herself first, and although it took her more than three years to accomplish her goal of being independent, she still made it out okay. People like Eden, that grow from who they used to be, and use their experiences to recognize what they need to change and how they choose to live the rest of their lives, are the people that humanity should respect the most. It is not the people that have their life figured out, or the independent people that are portrayed as perfect. It is the people that are growing and changing that this society needs to look up to, the people that admit their weaknesses and strive to change them. It is the people like Eden, who are okay with growing and evolving and adapting to situations, and are okay with whatever the outcome, because they know that what they are doing is making them a stronger person, and that is what makes this book so incredible for young readers. Smith flawlessly conveys certain aspects of teenage life that allows the reader to personalize the story and understand that it is okay to change and grow, and all it takes is a strong person like Eden to make the whole world want to dive in and read more about what they could do with their lives if they just realized all the things they could better within themselves.
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