This is odd territory to be in. The details and events that take place in this novel are so intimate and so unbelievably horrible, that to say anything against it feels like a betrayal somehow. I guess this is my way of disclaiming that this is a work of fiction, therefore I am not, nor would I, undermine anybody else’s real-life events.
I’ll start by saying this is a read-in-one-sitting type of book. If you listen to the audiobook, it’s almost impossible to put down. The narrator does a fantastic job of getting you hooked right away. If it were for my reading experience alone, then this book would easily get five stars. There aren’t a lot of books out there that have the binge quality Smith was able to get down. However, critically speaking, this book doesn’t get as high a rating from me. Often, I found myself comparing it to Thirteen Reasons Why , the Netflix adaptation, in the way it impacts and draws people in immediately with crude scenes. Yet, you’re left wondering if it truly did any good: Does this help someone? Or is it, to put it frankly, just torture porn?
The first scene in The Way I Used to Be is a rape scene. One, that again judging this as a piece of fiction, felt under developed. Some parts of it felt unrealistic, or like the author watched a True Crime show and based it off of that. Additionally, I felt like Kevin himself was two-dimensional. I am by no means expecting, or wanting, a sympathy link between readers and him, but I do expect him to be human. He felt like a caricature of a villain. When the truly awful thing about rapists is their ability to assimilate and blend in. Each encounter he had with Eden felt a bit implausible, like a real life version of him wouldn’t test his luck as much.
In a way, The Way I Used to Be is simply a string of horrible events one after another. The question is: Does that merit a novelization? What is the actual point of this book? Because it felt like many conversations were started, yet none of them were fully answered. Based on the ending, a lot of plot-points or characters leading up to it felt unnecessary. For example, what was the point of Cameron? We’re told he hates Eden right away, get to experience a rather unpleasant exchange between them, but then the author doesn’t bother explaining or closing out that section of the plot. There were also many characters whose personalities were either two-dimensional or conflicted with their actions.
In the end, I am happy for anyone who has found solace in this novel. I in now way am trying to deter that. Objectively, I simply couldn’t get over certain aspects. If you liked Thirteen Reasons Why or Go Ask Alice by Anonymous, then I have a feeling you’ll appreciate this more than I did.