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The Way I Used To Be Book Summary, Review, Notes

“The Way I Used to Be” is a poignant and impactful story about a young girl’s struggle with the aftermath of sexual assault. The narrative follows her through high school as she deals with the internal and external changes caused by the trauma. This deeply emotional and realistic portrayal captures the complexities of coping with such a life-altering event and its effects on relationships, identity, and perception of the world.


Book Name: The Way I Used To Be
Author: Amber Smith
Date of Reading: November 2023

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

Part One (Freshman Year)


The first part of “The Way I Used to Be” focuses on the immediate aftermath of the sexual assault experienced by the protagonist, Eden, and explores several key themes:


Trauma and its Immediate Effects:


The narrative vividly portrays Eden’s initial reaction to her assault. She experiences confusion, denial, and shock. Her struggle to process the violation, especially by someone she trusted, Kevin, who is her brother’s best friend, is central to this part of the story. This section delves deeply into the psychological impact of trauma, illustrating how it can disrupt one’s sense of safety and normalcy.


Isolation and Misunderstanding: 


Following the assault, Eden feels profoundly isolated. Her interactions with her family, particularly her mother, underscore this theme. Her mother’s misinterpretation of Eden’s distress as a normal teenage issue, like getting her period, highlights the gap in understanding and support Eden faces. This part of the book emphasizes how survivors of assault can feel alienated, even in familiar environments, and struggle with feelings of loneliness and being misunderstood.


Altered Perception of Reality: 


Eden’s perception of her world changes dramatically post-assault. The normalcy of her family life and the mundane activities around her feel surreal and distant. This thematic element illustrates how traumatic experiences can alter a person’s engagement with their everyday life and surroundings, making even the most ordinary settings and interactions feel strange and unrelatable.


Struggle with Identity and Self-Perception:


Eden’s internal struggle is a significant theme. The assault causes her to question her identity and how she perceives herself. The contrast between who she was before the assault and who she feels she has become is a recurring motif, symbolizing the profound impact that such experiences can have on a person’s self-concept.


Coping Mechanisms: 


The first part of the book also begins to explore Eden’s coping mechanisms. Her inability to disclose the assault and the ensuing internalization of her trauma are indicative of her attempt to maintain a semblance of normalcy. This theme reflects the complex ways in which individuals cope with traumatic experiences, often hiding their pain and struggling privately.


Part Two (Sophomore Year)


Part Two of “The Way I Used to Be” continues to follow Eden’s journey as she grapples with the aftermath of her sexual assault. This section is characterized by several themes:


Escalating Self-Destruction and Risk-Taking Behavior:


Eden’s coping mechanisms evolve into increasingly self-destructive behaviors. She engages in risky sexual encounters and substance abuse, signifying her internal turmoil and a desperate attempt to regain control over her body and life. These actions also reflect her deepening sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.


Complex Relationship Dynamics:


The part delves into Eden’s complicated relationships, particularly with Josh, her former love interest. Their interactions are fraught with unresolved feelings and misunderstandings. Eden’s struggle to reconcile her past feelings with her current state of mind is evident in these interactions, highlighting the long-lasting impact of trauma on personal relationships.


Revelation and Acknowledgement of the Assault:


A critical moment in this part is Eden’s decision to finally disclose her assault. The narrative captures the immense emotional toll of this revelation on both Eden and her listeners. This pivotal moment marks a shift in Eden’s journey, moving from suppression and denial to acknowledgment and confrontation of her trauma.


Internal Conflict and Search for Identity:


Eden’s internal conflict intensifies as she continues to grapple with her identity post-assault. The contrast between her outward actions and inner turmoil exemplifies the struggle many survivors face in understanding and accepting their changed selves. Her actions are a cry for help and a search for understanding, underlining the complex psychological impact of such a traumatic experience.

Part Three (Junior Year)


Part Three of “The Way I Used to Be” intensifies Eden’s struggle with her trauma and her journey towards healing and self-acceptance. This section unfolds several key themes:


Reckoning with the Past:


Eden faces the daunting task of confronting her past. Her internal battle is palpable as she grapples with the decision to finally speak out about her assault. This represents a significant turning point in the narrative, emphasizing the importance and difficulty of confronting traumatic experiences.


Strained Family Dynamics:


Eden’s relationship with her family, especially her brother Caelin, becomes more strained yet also more transparent. The revelation of her assault to her brother is a pivotal moment, showcasing the complexities and emotional nuances in family dynamics following such revelations. It highlights the ripple effect of trauma on family members.


The Power of Speaking Out:


A crucial element of this part is Eden’s decision to report her assault. This act of bravery and self-advocacy is a major step in her healing process. It underscores the theme of empowerment through speaking one’s truth, despite the fear and uncertainty that accompanies such actions.


Navigating Relationships and Seeking Closure:


Eden’s interactions with Josh and Amanda bring both challenges and opportunities for closure. These interactions are fraught with emotional complexity, reflecting the tangled web of feelings and unresolved issues stemming from the past. Eden’s journey through these relationships illustrates the ongoing struggle for survivors to find peace and closure.


Personal Growth and Self-Discovery:


Throughout this part, Eden embarks on a profound journey of self-discovery. Her evolution from a victim to a survivor who takes control of her narrative is deeply moving. This theme is a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


Part Four (Senior Year)


Part Four of “The Way I Used to Be” marks a significant progression in Eden’s journey of healing and self-discovery. The themes in this section are poignant and transformative:


Confronting the Assailant and Seeking Justice:


A central focus of this part is Eden’s decision to confront Kevin, her assailant. This confrontation, both internal and external, is laden with complex emotions. Eden’s bravery in facing Kevin and the legal implications of her assault signifies a pivotal step in reclaiming her narrative and seeking justice.


Reconciliation with Family and Friends:


Eden’s relationships with her family, particularly her brother Caelin, and friends undergo a process of healing and understanding. These interactions are crucial in depicting the long journey of mending fractured relationships and rebuilding trust. Eden’s candid conversations with Caelin and her friend Josh highlight the power of truth and the healing that comes from openness and support.


Personal Empowerment and Acceptance:


Eden’s transformation into a more empowered individual is evident in this part. Her actions move from a place of victimhood to a stance of strength and self-advocacy. This theme is a testament to the resilience and courage required to overcome such profound trauma and to the empowering realization that one’s past does not define the future.


The Complexity of Healing:


The narrative delves deep into the multifaceted nature of healing from trauma. Eden’s experiences underscore that healing is not linear and involves navigating a spectrum of emotions and setbacks. This section portrays the raw and authentic process of coming to terms with one’s experiences and finding a way to move forward.


Closure and Moving Forward:


Part Four culminates in Eden’s journey towards closure and moving forward with her life. This includes her decision to report her assault and confront the truths of her past. The section ends with a sense of cautious optimism, acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead but also the possibilities that come with embracing change and self-growth.


There are thematic parts that the book covers:


Trauma and Its Aftermath:

The core theme of the book revolves around the trauma of sexual assault and its pervasive impact on Eden’s life. The narrative illustrates how trauma can alter a person’s worldview, affecting their interactions, behaviors, and sense of self. Eden’s struggle to come to terms with her assault and its continual haunting presence showcases the long-lasting effects of such a traumatic experience.


Silence and Isolation:

Following her assault, Eden’s journey is marked by silence and isolation. Her inability to disclose the assault to her loved ones creates a barrier, fostering a sense of alienation. This theme highlights the difficulties victims often face in expressing their trauma and the isolation that can ensue from keeping such a painful secret.


Changing Identity and Self-Perception:

The novel explores how trauma can drastically change a person’s identity and perception of themselves. Eden’s transformation from a trusting, open individual to someone who is guarded and skeptical demonstrates the impact of trauma on one’s sense of self. Her internal battle with her own identity reflects the struggle many survivors face in understanding and accepting themselves after trauma.


Resilience and Healing:

While the journey is fraught with challenges, the book also touches on themes of resilience and the potential for healing. Eden’s story is not just about her suffering; it is also about her resilience in the face of unimaginable pain. Her gradual steps towards healing, though imperfect, signify the strength and courage it takes to overcome such deep wounds.


Impact of Trauma on Relationships:

Eden’s relationships are significantly affected by her trauma. Her interactions with family, friends, and potential romantic interests are all filtered through her experience of assault, depicting how trauma can ripple out to affect all areas of a person’s life, including their ability to trust and connect with others.


The Power of Voice and Speaking Out:

The novel underscores the importance of having a voice and the power of speaking out. Eden’s journey towards finding her voice and the courage to confront her trauma illustrates the healing power of self-expression and the importance of being heard.


Coping Mechanisms and Self-Destructive Behavior:

Eden’s coping mechanisms, some of which are self-destructive, shed light on how individuals deal with trauma in various ways. Her behavior underscores the complex ways in which people try to manage their pain, sometimes in ways that can be harmful to themselves and their relationships.


Most important keywords, sentences, quotes:

“He’s not the hero and he’s not the enemy and he’s not a god. He’s just a boy. And I’m just a girl, a girl who needs to pick up her own pieces and put them back together herself.”


“I don’t know who I am right now. But I know who I’m not. And I like that.”


“I hate that just because you happen to be good at something, people automatically think that’s what makes you happy, but it’s not really like that, you know? It’s not that simple.”


“Maybe He’ll get what he deserves. Maybe Not. Maybe I’ll never find it in my heart to forgive him. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, either. All those maybes swimming around my head make me think that “maybe” could just be another word for hope.”


“I think about how they say when most people get into car accidents, it’s less than one mile from their home. Maybe that’s because everything’s so familiar, you stop paying attention. You don’t notice the one thing that’s different or wrong or off or dangerous. And I think about how maybe that’s what just happened to me.”


“I realize quickly I actually love shelving the books, putting things back in the proper order. Everything has a place—a right way to be. Here, I don’t have to worry about who I am or if I’m being it right. No one bothers me, not even myself.”


“And I’m terrified he’ll see through the tough iceberg layer, and he’ll discover not a soft, sweet girl, but an ugly fucking disaster underneath.”


“All these maybes swimming around my head make me think that “maybe” could just be another word for hope.”


“I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t know why I didn’t hear the door click. Why I didn’t lock the damn door to begin with. Or why it didn’t register that something was wrong, so mercilessy 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. Or why I didn’t to try to fight him when I still stood a chance.”

Amber Smith Quote 2

Book Review (Personal Opinion):


“The Way I Used to Be” is a heart-wrenching portrayal of a teenager’s journey through trauma and its aftermath. The raw and honest narrative effectively conveys the protagonist’s pain, confusion, and struggle to find her identity post-assault. 


The book excels in depicting the complexities of emotional healing, making it a compelling and thought-provoking read. However, its heavy subject matter might be challenging for some readers. Overall, it’s a moving and insightful exploration of a difficult topic.


Rating: 8/10

This book is for (recommend):

  • Readers interested in young adult fiction that tackles serious and complex issues.
  • Those looking to understand the emotional and psychological impacts of trauma.
  • Anyone seeking a deeply emotional narrative that explores personal growth and resilience.
Amber Smith Quote 3

If you want to learn more

For those interested in exploring similar themes, books like “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “All the Rage” by Courtney Summers are recommended. They offer different perspectives on coping with assault and finding one’s voice amidst trauma.


How I’ve implemented the ideas from the book

The resilience and courage shown by Eden can inspire readers to confront their own challenges with a similar strength. Acknowledging and seeking support for personal struggles, as Eden eventually does, is a crucial step in healing.


One small actionable step you can do

As a reader, one small but significant step is to engage in open and supportive conversations about trauma and mental health. This can help in fostering understanding and creating a safe space for those who have experienced similar challenges.


The Way I Used To Be Book Book - Summary-Infographic