By Kaitlan Tatro
What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance? Would you share your favorite experiences or would you warn them of what’s to come?
In Aimee L. Salter’s debut novel, Every Ugly Word, Ashley has this opportunity and has to answer these difficult questions.
Salter begins her novel with Ashley having a discussion with her therapist that ultimately leads to her telling Doc, and the reader, about the “incident” that put her in therapy. Because I was aware of Ashley going through an unavoidable trauma, I was anxious for Ashley and anxious to finish the novel. In fact, I was hooked and wanted to read more, but at the same time I was nervous to find out about what was actually going to happen! Salter is a genius in this way; she gets the reader involved and presents a story where we want to see the ending through, where we want to see Ashley be happy, and where frankly, I wanted to jump into the book and defend Ashley myself. Through the reader’s eyes, empathy towards Ashley is effortless.
Ashley, is a junior in high school who has been severely bullied since middle school. Her peers in high school torment her on a daily basis, sending her hate texts and death glares in the halls. Ashley, struggling with normal pressures of going through high school, and issues like wanting a more intimate relationship with her best friend Matt, has to endure the cruelties of her peers on top of it. Through all of this crazy, Ashley has a secret, one she’s afraid to confront herself and is afraid to tell to others. Ashley can see and talk to her older self.Salter delves into the unreal and mystical as she creates a portal for Ashley to communicate with her older self through mirrors. Ashley struggles because she thinks she is crazy and fears that others will think she is crazy. Ashley must decide what to believe. She must choose which decision will help her, or destroy her. This combination of mystical and real works, because it allows the message of hope and Ashley’s journey to come across.
Ashley’s journey is one that other teens face as well, that’s the beauty of Ashley’s story and Salter’s interpretation. Salter provides a realistic portrayal of the societal issue of bullying through Eli and Karyn, the antagonists that Salter creates and their disrespectful and inhumane acts that occur daily to innocent teens that parallel bullies in real life. Through characters that can be compared to those in real life, Salter relates to those who go through the same terrors. Through this reality, Salter provides a story that gives hope for teens in similar situations. Through Ashley’s strong reactions and through her healing process, a reader feeling like Ashley can get hope out of her narrative. Ashley uses art as an escape by creating portraits of the people in her life who affect her both positively and negatively. She pours her emotions into her work, for she knows she can use it to escape from her world. It’s Ashley’s way out of town, to college and to a better world where she can be rid of the negative people that bring her down or belittle her. Ashley’s strength in her work and strength in her choices is a positive model for all teens going through her situation.
I highly suggest reading Ashley’s story. Whether you are feeling similar helpless feelings, experiencing bullying first hand, or just wanting to read an emotional, grabbing story, look no further.
For more information about bullying go here:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://www.afsp.org