Genres: Young Adult
Main themes: Bullying, Mental Health
Rating: 2.5 stars
The opening chapter of Every Ugly Word was both bold and gripping, and is what convinced me to give the book a try. The story starts off with main character Ashley, sitting in the office of her doctor- she’s on a psychiatric ward and is hoping that this meeting will prove that she’s well enough to go home. But why was she first admitted? Well, readers learn that whenever Ashley looks into a mirror she doesn’t see a reflection of herself, but her older, adult self. As she finally opens up about her past, we learn about Ashley’s upsetting story of how bullying can push people into a very dark place.
As a psychology student, I was really interested in exploring Ashley’s character. I really wanted to understand her as a person, and understand in what ways seeing her future self in the mirror was impacting her life. Ashley was a likeable character but it was really hard going, reading about her experience of bullying. At school, Ashley is pretty much an outcast. Due to an unfortunate event in her younger school years, Ashley has become subject to the abuse of her unforgiving and cold peers, and sadly the torment for her is constant- even in the safety of her own home she is bombarded with abusive messages, no matter how many times she changes her number. The impact that all of this has on Ashley’s well being is heartbreaking but it serves as an important reminder of just how horrific bullying can be. So much more needs to be done to stop bullying, especially within the environments where people should feel safe.
So I thought the book did a great job with highlighting the impact of bullying. However, the book became extremely confusing for me towards the end because the lines between fiction and mental health became incredibly blurred for me. I won’t go into too much detail as this is kind of spoilery but I feel like it’s really important to point out because it changed the way I felt about the book completely. It’s revealed towards the end that another character can also see what Ashley was seeing in the mirror (they could see the older Ashley and an older version of themselves) and I understand that there are no limits to what can happen in fiction but given the context, I thought this really undermined the seriousness of mental health.
I say this because the way the story had been set up and portrayed was so authentic to the experience of someone who really has been admitted to a psychiatric ward. I thought it was brilliant that the author was able to provide that insight and so to suddenly find out during the last couple of chapters that another character can also see Ashley’s future self, this had thrown me off completely. If objectively, Ashley was able to see her older self and for whatever reason, other people could too then I feel like this should have been made explicit from the beginning of the story so that the reader wouldn’t go into the book with the wrong impression. Even if it was supposed to be a part of a greater plot twist, I personally don’t think it works when you’re dealing with mental health. I was confused as to whether this was realistic fiction or whether this was supposed have an element of fantasy to it. If it was the latter, again I feel like it would have been more helpful to state this as early on as possible.
So overall I enjoyed the majority of the book but the ambiguity of Ashley’s condition was what made me give it a lower rating however, it doesn’t overrule the insight that the author was able to provide into the experience of bullying.