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About The Book

New York Times bestseller! In the tradition of Speak, Amber Smith's extraordinary debut novel “is a heart-twisting, but ultimately hopeful, exploration of how pain can lead to strength” (The Boston Globe).

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, all while learning to embrace the power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide for

The Way I Used to Be

By Amber Smith


Book Description

For most of her life, Eden has been a shy, dorky girl whose life is simple and unremarkable. Her life revolves around her family, her clarinet, and her small circle of friends, until one day, her brother’s best friend, who is like family, assaults her, and Eden realizes her life will never be the same. She changes her appearance so that people see her in a new way. She vows never to be the shy, quiet Edy who felt so defenseless that day. Eden cannot go back and change that night, but she can change what happens next.         

Discussion Questions

1.) The morning after Eden is raped, she is hesitant to tell her mother. What did Kevin tell Eden to discourage her from telling anyone? What about her mother’s tone makes Eden change her mind? Discuss what might have happened if Eden’s mother had been a more supportive listener. 

2.) Eden and the guy she calls “Number 12” crash into each other in the hallway, and Eden has a strong reaction. Describe Eden’s thought process after their encounter. What word(s) does she use to capture how she is feeling? The reader is given no reason to believe that Number 12 bumped into her on purpose, so discuss why Eden reacts this way.

3.) Near the end of her freshman year, Eden decides to start standing up for herself, beginning with her parents, because “it was with them that it began.” What began with her parents? Do you think it is possible for her to stand up for herself and win her parents’ approval?

4.) During the beginning of her sophomore year, Eden discovers that “All you have to do is act like you’re normal and okay, and people start treating you that way.” Predict what will happen if she continues to act like she is okay without dealing with her underlying emotional issues. 

5.) Mara asks Edy if she is afraid that Joshua Miller will want to have sex with her. What does Edy actually fear, and how does she decide to address her fear moving forward? Do you think that her method of coping might be common among rape victims?

6.) Eden describes how Josh and Kevin talk differently. How is Josh’s voice different from Kevin’s, and how does Eden interpret this difference? What exactly does Eden mean when she says that “everything about him is different”?   

7.) Eden admits that something about Josh makes her “want, so badly, to be vulnerable.” Why does she resist becoming vulnerable with Josh? Rather than open up to him, what does she do instead? How is Eden’s struggle with balancing control and vulnerability evident in future relationships?

8.) Josh says that his father is “basically a good dad, but then there’s this thing that, like, controls him.” How does he define a “good” dad? What is the thing to which he refers? Do you agree that Josh’s dad is still basically good, despite this particular flaw?

9.) Eden tells Josh the story of when she fell off her bike when she was twelve. Reread the conversations she remembers having with Mara that day, and look for details that exemplify Eden and Mara’s childhood innocence. Then, describe how Eden is forced to grow up after being raped by Kevin. 

10.) Interpret the following quotation: “I don’t know who I am right now. But I know who I’m not. And I like that.” Who is Eden “not” anymore? What did her dad used to call her when she was younger, and why does Eden resent that nickname now?

11.) Eden describes in detail what happened the night Kevin raped her. Why does she tell the story in third person? What effect does this point of view have on the reader? How might Eden’s story and response to being raped seem different if the author told the story from another character’s point of view?

12.) Eden explains how she picks out guys at parties. Discuss how Eden thinks of her own sexual behavior and compare that with the reputation she has at school. Why does Eden choose to have multiple partners, and how is her behavior viewed by her peers?

13.) How do the characters in the story view Eden? How do Amanda and Steve describe her? Do their descriptions differ? Why?

14.) At the beginning of Part 4, Eden begins referring to her parents by their first names instead of Mom and Dad. What brings about this change? Discuss the significance of this change, keeping in mind how her relationship with her parents has changed throughout high school. Will she revert to Mom and Dad when she gets older?

15.) Amanda and Eden’s relationship is tense, but they have a very open and honest conversation during Eden’s senior year. What does Amanda reveal to Eden? What did Kevin say happened between him and Eden? Discuss how Amanda and Eden’s relationship evolves throughout the story.

16.) After Eden tells her story to the police, what does Detective Dorian Dodgson say to comfort her? How does Eden react to this statement? Do you think Eden’s trust in the police is common for young women in her situation?

17.) Describe Eden’s relationship with her brother, Caelin, and how it changes as the story unfolds. Does Eden feel safe discussing her feelings with her brother? Why or why not? How does Caelin respond to Eden’s rape? Does he feel guilty?

Extension Activities

1.) Find an organization in your area that does outreach for victims of sexual assault. Talk to someone from the organization to understand what signs rape victims may exhibit and how to help. Ask whether your community has a crisis helpline that can be used if someone wants to report an assault. Report back to your group your findings either by preparing a short talk or writing a short paper.

2.) Search for articles in the news about sexual assault on college campuses. Have students summarize and present their findings to the class. Visit a local university to see how school counselors and campus health services can serve as a resource for rape victims. Discuss in small groups the kind of information upcoming college freshman boys and girls need to know as they prepare for college.

3.) Research what happens to people in your community who are struggling with addiction. Contact your local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, and see what other community groups support recovering addicts and alcoholics. Find out whether there are groups that specifically help teens, and volunteer to help them for a day. Be prepared to discuss in a group or in class your experience and what you learned.

4.) Interview a marriage and family therapist or a social worker to learn more about how to address sexual abuse in children. What does a therapy session consist of? How are parents involved in the treatment process? Learn what the long-term social, emotional, and behavioral effects can be for children who do not receive the therapy or counseling that they need. Prepare a short presentation for your class or a small group.



Guide written by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.


About The Author

Photo by Deborah Triplett

Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to Be, The Last to Let GoSomething Like Gravity, and The Way I Am Now. An advocate for increased awareness of gendered violence, as well as LGBTQ equality, she writes in the hope that her books can help to foster change and spark dialogue surrounding these issues. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her wife and their ever-growing family of rescued dogs and cats. You can find her online at

About The Reader

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (March 22, 2016)
  • Runtime: 9 hours and 45 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781442395992
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Awards and Honors

  • Nutmeg Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • TAYSHAS Reading List (TX)
  • Amelia Bloomer List
  • Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award Nominee

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