My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Originally titled Breakable, Every Ugly Word is Aimee L. Salter’s revamped debut novel that is now being published under Alloy Entertainment. And if you’ve read the blurb, then you’ll know that this deals with bullying with a unique twist.
Ashley Watson is seventeen years old and has been bullied relentlessly since she was thirteen. The reason behind the bullying is kind of her fault, she even acknowledges this fact, but for it to continue over the years over a stupid lie is sad. What makes it worse is that the bullying is done by her former friends. No matter what she does or where she goes, there they are ready to make her life a living hell.
Not only does she have to deal with her tormentors at school, but her home life isn’t all that great either. Her mom, who is dealing with her own issues when her husband leaves her for a younger woman, seems to have a funny way of showing Ashley she loves her. She’s cruel and she doesn’t even realize it.
Not even her friendship with her best friend, and crush, Matt is enough to bring happiness into her life, especially when he starts dating one of Ashley’s bullies. The more he tries to bring make things right between Ashley and her former friends, the more she starts to see him as a flawed human being instead of a knight in shining armour.
There is one solace though and that is Older Ashley. Older Ashley is Ashley, only in the future. The only way they can communicate is through a mirror, but Older Ashley has become somewhat distant and her half truths and vague details keeps making Little Ashley suspicious of her true motives.
It makes sense, considering Older Ashley has already lived through the bullying. She knows what happens and is determined to make sure that her younger self doesn’t make the same bad choices that she did. There’s only one problem, Older Ashley is currently in a mental institution and everyone kind of thinks she’s crazy. (Not really a spoiler, as you find this out within the first page)
Welcome to an unreliable narrator and a story that makes you wonder what is actually happen.
Every Ugly Word is told in first person present tense when Older Ashley narrates the story, and first person past tense when the Younger Ashley tells us what happened. The writing style is smooth and even though this might seem like a weird transition to read, it never felt off or jarring. Both Ashley’s had a distinctive voice, despite being the same person. Older Ashley is jaded and seems over it, while the Younger Ashley is angry, vulnerable, and naive.
In terms of characterization, I feel like Salter did a good job displaying flawed characters that may not be relatable or all that likeable, but feel real. Ashley, being the main character, is showcased the most and so we get to see her low points and her highs. I don’t think I’ve ever read a bullying novel and not shake my fist in anger at the bullied. I know that sounds bad, because in real life I would do that, but whenever I saw Ashley make wrong choice after wrong choice, I wanted to shake her and tell her to stop and to value herself. It was frustrating, but I couldn’t stop reading. I don’t think everyone will like her, but her growth and determination was nice to see.
Matt is also shown with a flawed set of glasses as well. He wants to be a good guy, but he’s also a high school boy who wants to be friends with everyone. He does some really crappy things to Ashley, but considering what he knew and the situation, it was believable.
With regards to the bullies, they don’t really get any depth to them, but then again considering that this is told from the bullied perspective it kind of makes sense. What they did to her was horrible, so it was hard to find anything really sympathetic or relatable. And since Ashley is the one telling us what they did, it would be kind of weird if they were anything other one dimensional jerkfaces. To Ashley, that is what they were and thus this is what the readers get to see as well.
The characters, like the writing, are also done well. But I especially loved the plot surrounding Older Ashley and Young Ashley. I wasn’t sure if Ashley was crazy or if the past that we were seeing involved a different Ashley or it was simply Older Ashley reliving the past. In the end, everything is revealed, but I did like how you were never really sure what was going on.
My only complaint was that there were times when the therapist didn’t seem to behave like a real doctor. I kept wondering if he was a figment of Older Ashley’s mind and if what she was experiencing was really real. Older Ashley’s interactions with him seemed false, in some places as well, and I couldn’t stand it when she kept calling him Doc this and Doc that.
Overall: I really liked Every Ugly Word. The bullying depicted here was uncomfortable in some parts and reading how broken Ashley was due to everything was kind of depressing. There will be times when you want to shake her and tell her that what she’s doing is stupid and will only hurt her in the end, but she still does it anyways. Mainly because Ashley isn’t real and her story is already written on the pages, so nothing you can say will change anything, but still….. The feelings of wanting to do that remain.
Great debut novel by Salter and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Every Ugly Word was provided by netgalley