Amber Smith centers the complex healing process and evolution of a promising relationship in The Way I Am Now, the follow-up to her #BookTok darling The Way I Used to Be. The YA novel is due on November 7 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Smith’s 2016 novel The Way I Used to Be follows Eden, a young woman who is sexually assaulted by her brother’s popular best friend during her freshman year and struggles with the trauma throughout high school. Eden has a brief relationship with a classmate named Josh, who is caring for his alcoholic father, but due to their circumstances the teens are unable to offer one another a safe place.
“When I was a young person, I needed books about tough issues. Those were the books that saved me.” Smith told PW. “To know that you’re not alone is such a powerful and empowering experience—that’s what I strive to provide readers through my books.”
The heart-wrenching story of Eden caught the attention of young readers on TikTok this year (the #TheWayIUsedToBe hashtag has 75 million views to date). Like many authors who have come into BookTok success, Smith was surprised to learn her backlist novel had become so popular among teens. She had her first inkling of the book’s rising popularity on the social media platform during an email exchange with fellow YA author Kathleen Glasgow where Glasgow mentioned it to her.
“I think my response was simply, ‘Oh, wow. That’s so nice to hear!’ ” Smith said. “And it was nice to hear, but I hadn’t been active on TikTok at all, so I really didn’t know how much of an impact [the book] was making.”
The Way I Am Now picks up with Eden settling in at college and preparing to speak at a trial against her abuser, while rekindling a relationship with Josh. For Smith, rejoining old characters for a new step in their journeys was a “challenging and rewarding” prospect.
“I felt like I was reuniting with old friends I had shared years of my life with,” Smith said. “Because I had so much time between books, I think I was able to approach this sequel with fresh eyes and a new understanding of myself, the characters, and the story—an understanding that was largely informed by all the readers I’ve heard from over the years.”
At the core of The Way I Am Now is Smith’s desire “to dig deeper and understand why we hurt each other as well as how we heal each other,” she said. “Often, we have this idea that healing is a linear path with a single origin and a single destination, and at the end of it you are left with a scar that doesn’t hurt anymore,” she added. “But healing from trauma—any trauma—is ongoing. It’s messy. It’s complicated. There are ups and downs along the way. I wanted to show all the triumphs and the losses, all the ugliness and beauty—that even though it’s never easy, it’s always worth it.”
The Way I Am Now by Amber Smith. McElderry Books, $21.99 Nov. 7 ISBN 978-1-66594-710-7