Eden and Josh decide to give their relationship another chance in this much anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Way I Used to Be that “highlights with painful honesty the process of moving forward following trauma” (Kirkus Reviews).
Eden and Josh never had a fair shot at a healthy relationship. When they dated in high school, they each had their own problems getting in the way of the deep connection they felt toward one another. Unbeknownst to Josh, Eden was carrying the burden of a devastating sexual assault, while Josh was dealing with his own private struggle of having an alcoholic father.
Months after Eden and two other girls publicly accuse their rapist, Eden is starting college while her case goes to trial. Now when she and Josh reconnect, it seems like it might finally be in the right place at the right time for them to make it work. But is their love strong enough to withstand the challenges and chaos of college and the crushing realities of a trial that will determine whether Eden gets the justice she deserves?
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The unthinkable happened to Eden, and it came close to ruining her life. She’d been on a trajectory full of desperate decisions, self-destructive behavior, and unbearable pain. But now she has told others about what happened, and Kevin is going to have to face the consequences of what he did. So why isn’t Eden’s life back to normal? Her dad barely talks to her, and her brother’s life has been turned upside down. Her friends don’t seem to know how to treat her, and Eden just can’t seem to move forward. She’s tried everything she can think of—therapy, dating a “nice” guy, working hard at her schoolwork, and getting a job—but she just can’t help but feel like she’s still in survival mode.
When she finds out that she’s been admitted to Tucker Hill University, Eden can’t wait to accept. In a new city and a new environment, she can start to rebuild her life without confronting a bad memory at every turn. And if she’s able to reconnect with Josh in a meaningful way, all the better.
And at first it works. She and Josh pick up where they left off with one big difference— this time there are no secrets between them. But Eden has a lot of baggage, and Josh isn’t always sure he’s doing the right thing. Can they each put aside their pasts long enough to build a future together? And is their relationship built on trust or something altogether shakier?
1. The book begins with Eden saying, “I’m disappearing again,” which is a familiar feeling for her. (p. 1) What are some other times that Eden “disappears” or “slips away”? Why does she do it? Is it on purpose? Are there times when she is very present and not in danger of disappearing at all?
2. Why is Eden grateful to Cameron for not pretending to be nice to her? Are there other people who treat her as normal? How does Cameron’s attitude toward her change over the course of the book?
3. Eden’s medication calms her panic attacks but also dulls her emotions. At one point, she says, “I’m suddenly unsure if I can trust myself to even know whether I’m safe or not with that part of me dormant.” (p. 11) Do you think she can trust herself to recognize unsafe situations? Discuss your feelings about the costs and benefits of medications like the one Eden is taking.
4. When Eden sees Josh at the concert, she says, “There’s nothing I needed more tonight than this, with Josh. And God, how I am not used to getting what I need.” (p. 24) Why do you think this is? Who is not giving Eden what she needs?
5. How does Kevin get a high-powered defense attorney? How does this make Eden feel? Why is Josh so bitter about it?
6. Why is Eden dating Steve? What effect does Eden’s past have on their relationship? Why does she end it with him?
7. How has Eden’s relationship with Mara changed since she told everyone about the rape? Before the trial, Mara says, “‘You never gave me the chance to be a good friend to you.’” (p. 256) Why did Eden do this? How does Eden change her relationship with Mara after this confession?
8. Why does Josh get drunk after the concert while hanging out with his high school friends? What are the repercussions for his drunken evening? Is it fair to Josh that his parents put so much pressure on him to remain sober?
9. When thinking about their high school relationship, Josh says, “Eden was angry and I was sad, and we shouldn’t have worked but we did.” (p. 113) Do you think this is true? How do these roles shift throughout the novel? How does this past relationship affect Josh’s dealings with Bella?
10. Why is it so important to Eden that she leave home and go away to school? What aspects of her life, both positive and negative, is she leaving behind? Why do you think Caelin makes the opposite decision and stays home instead of going back to school?
11. Why is Josh so worried about his behavior toward Eden during high school? What about Eden’s behavior back then might make him think that he might have pressured her?
12. What qualities make Parker a good friend for Eden and Josh? What about Dominic? How do they support the couple, and what do they get from the friendship?
13. When Josh and Eden have sex again for the first time since high school, she says, “I’ve never been so present . . . I realize, I’m crying. Crying because I’ve never felt this way before. About him, about myself. I don’t even know what it is, but I feel it in my body, my heart, my mind, everywhere—it’s everything. And then I know, all at once: This feeling is freedom.” (p. 203) Why didn’t she have this feeling any of the other times she had sex, even with Josh? What makes this time different? Why do you think she calls it “freedom”?
14. Why doesn’t Eden want Josh to attend the hearing with her? How does Josh feel about this?
15. Who or what made Eden feel like a jack-o’-lantern? (p. 293) How do you feel about her metaphor? How does she find her way to feeling human again?
16. Why is Eden’s nightmare so traumatic for Josh? For Eden? How does it change their relationship?
17. How did Eden respond to Josh’s strong reaction about her slip-up with her birth control pills? Was it fair of her to put him in this position? Why did he react the way he does? What did he mean when he said, “‘This is you’”? Why was this statement so triggering for Eden? (p. 335)
18. Why does Josh play basketball? What does it mean to him? Why has he grown to resent it so much? Why does his playing improve after he and Eden break up?
19. It is very important to Eden that she make people understand why she didn’t say no to Kevin when he was raping her. Why does her answer make the defense attorney so angry?
20. The format of The Way I Am Now is very different than that of The Way I Used to Be, with Josh and Eden narrating alternate chapters. Why do you think the author chose to make this change? Why was it important that both their voices be heard?
1. When Eden feels a panic attack coming on, she checks in with all five of her senses to ground herself in the moment. The next time you are feeling stressed or on the verge of losing control, try this exercise. Or commit to doing it once a day to keep yourself present and calm.
2. After the first hearing, Eden and Josh read a lot of upsetting articles and comments about the case. Journalists are supposed to be fair and unbiased, but often make their own opinions of the topic known in the text. Choose a current event, such as a court case or a political movement, and find a variety of articles about it from different writers and news sources. Make a list of the differences between how the facts are presented and write a short essay about the biases that you find in the reporting.
3. Is there a group in your school or community that either provides peer counseling or works to end violence against women? Learn how you can become a volunteer and help people like Eden.
4. Eden baked a cake and learned how to make special frosting for Josh’s birthday. Try your hand at baking a cake and see if you can make the frosting from scratch. Think about how it felt to work on this project: Was it calming and relaxing, or frustrating? Why?
5. Eden and Josh were meant to be together despite all the circumstances working to keep them apart. Choose another pair of star-crossed lovers in literature and write a report on the similarities and differences between the two couples. If you chose a couple who do not have a happy ending, rewrite their ending to one that you prefer.
Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
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Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to Be, The Last to Let Go, Something 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 AmberSmithAuthor.com.
“The Way I Used to Be is a modern classic—one that left readers clamoring for more of Eden’s story! We’re so excited to revisit Eden and Josh’s relationship, as well as Eden’s continuing quest for justice as she continues to heal from her sexual assault.”
—Nicole F., Editor, on The Way I Am Now
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (November 7, 2023)
"Jordan Fisher and Rebekkah Ross deliver the alternating points of view of this novel. Ross’s initial edginess captures Eden’s frayed nerves as she continues to recover from having been raped three years earlier. Still, right from the beginning, Ross also expresses Eden’s inner strength and determination to heal. When she enters college and begins a nurturing relationship with Josh, her voice grows stronger, even as she faces her rapist’s hearing. Fisher’s portrayal of Josh reveals his own sensitive points, but his steady voice mirrors Josh’s levelheadedness and unrelenting caring for Eden."