The Way I Used to Be

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
The Way I Used to Be Book Poster Image
Teen's life unravels after rape in insightful, sad tale.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Provides insight into the aftermath of rape and what victims' lives can be like afterward.

Positive Messages

The people who love you want to help you. It's never too late unburden yourself of a secret and start the healing process. You don't need to suffer any kind of trauma or pain in isolation. You don't "deserve it" when bad things happen to you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Eden is surrounded by people who want to help her. Even though the book depicts many negative interactions, most stem from friends and family not knowing about Eden's trauma, even though they are worried about her. Her mom and her brother clearly love her, even though they finally pull away after she continually rages at them. Mrs. Sullivan, the school librarian, provides a safe place for Eden to hang out and gets her to interact with other students. Mara is a dedicated and loyal friend to Eden. Josh bucks the jock stereotype by being a sensitive, kind person, and he cares about Eden's well-being.


A rape is described in vague terms on the first page, but it's later recounted in graphic detail. Bullying at school, including food throwing, gum in hair, and kids knocking into other kids. Parent slaps teen. Sexual harassment and slut shaming at school. A character is molested when fondled over her clothes. One character's past as a victim of sexual abuse is implied.


Many scenes of and references to kissing. Descriptions of teens having sex or about to have sex described in detail. One character has several anonymous sexual hookups, but most are only referenced, not detailed. References to kids making out at parties.


Frequent swearing and name calling: "f--k" and its variations, "s--t," and its variations, "ass," "a--hole," "damn," "God," "bitch," "Jesus," "bulls--t," "slut," "whore," "skank," "hell," and "d--k."


Brands and media mentioned in passing or as scene setting: The Wizard of Oz, Monopoly, Kmart, Chuck E. Cheese's, Denny's, The Brady Bunch, Triscuit, Cap'n Crunch, Cheesecake Factory, IHOP, and Diet Coke.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The book shows a lot of alcohol consumption. Some characters are designated drivers. A few main characters drink, smoke, cigarettes, and try pot. Many teens drink to get drunk at parties. One teen starts drinking in the afternoon, implying a worsening alcohol problem. Underage girls dress provocatively and flirt with cashier to buy beer illegally. Boys sneak beer out of parents' house. A couple of teen girls drink beer and smoke pot with strangers and end up passing out in a park. A few big parties with lots of heavy drinking depicted. A character drives home while high on pot. Two girls drink to passing out at home. One character claims she needs to drink to have fun.

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."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHM Hues July 14, 2017

Beautifully Thorough Book

This book is about a girl who was raped and finds ways to cope with this awful occurrence thought out her highschool career. It does discuss sensitive topics wh... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byLeahonna February 27, 2017

Good read, not for everyone

It touches on sensitive topics that not everyone is comfortable with reading, I for one am someone who will only read books like this. You can really relate to... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byLoomac23 May 2, 2016

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age books and stories that deal with consent

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