A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know The Way I Used to Be follows the story of a girl's high school experience after she is raped by her brother's best friend. The subject matter can be tough going, as are the descriptions of the rape and the way Eden descends into risky behavior and self-destruction over the four years following the attack. The depiction of the rape is intense and may be too much for younger or sensitive readers. The other violence mostly is bullying and sexual harassment. In addition to following Eden's emotional journey, the book portrays the problem of "slut shaming": how it starts, why it's a weapon, and the impact it can have on teen girls. The teen characters smoke cigarettes and pot, drink to excess, drive while high, drive without a license, and have sex. Some of these actions are characterized as typical teen behavior, but most are not portrayed in a positive light, especially the drinking and casual sexual hookups. The characters swear frequently, including "f--k" and its variations, "s--t" and its variations, "a--hole," "d--k," "bitch," "slut," and "whore."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Shy, quiet ninth grader Eden has always looked up to her older brother, Caelin, and his best friend, Kevin. When Kevin rapes Eden in the middle of the night, she is traumatized. Worried that his threats to kill her and his warnings that no one will ever believe her are true, she doesn't tell anyone what happened. And so begins four torturous years of high school for Eden. She decides to try on a new persona after the rape, which leads her into a slow slide of antisocial, destructive behavior that gets riskier as the years go by. She becomes estranged from her family and her few friends and is subjected to harassment and bullying at school. She eventually learns of another secret that forces her to figure out whether she can ever heal and regain control of her life.
Is it any good?
In this tough but worthwhile read, a teen girl's life spirals into self-destruction after she is raped in her own bed. The pain and loneliness Eden experiences after being raped by her brother's best friend is palpable. However, it's frustrating to watch a character make terrible decision after terrible decision, even if you feel for her. The overall message and story show that even kids from loving families find it hard to speak out and get help after a trauma. Hopefully teens reading this will get the lesson that the longer you hold a secret in, the more damage it does to you. The trauma of rape leads Eden to self-loathing and an inability to trust her instincts, and she begins to behave completely opposite of the shy, geeky girl she's always been. She loves the rush of power that comes with playing with guys' emotions and uses sex and alcohol as ways to escape her unhappiness. Her partying and frequent sexual hookups snowball until she gets to the point where she has no idea who the real Eden is anymore. Her rage is not only directed inward but also at everyone close to her, causing her to ruin her relationships with her friends and family. While not all rape victims react in this way, author Amber Smith paints a believable picture.
The book is on the long side, as it covers all four years of high school, and it would have been more compelling had it been tighter and had the side characters been better developed. Also, in her senior year, Eden begins referring to her parents by their first names. This reads like an editing mistake because their names have never been mentioned before that point. The author adds no explanation as to whom Eden is referring, so it could be confusing for some readers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Way I Used to Be. Do you think it was important to the story to recount the rape in graphic detail? Why, or why not?
What do you think of how teen drinking and partying is portrayed in the novel? Is it glorified as a rite of passage, or does it seem like a ticket to trouble? Has any book or movie portrayal of teen partying influenced your behavior?
Deep, unhappy secrets are a common theme in young adult books and movies. Do you think this is realistic as part of a portrayal of teen life?
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