***I received this book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and Mark My Words Publicity
“What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be the kick-ass heroine, like in books? Or the strong, noble star of a movie? Because it hurts. Something inside me broke open. I gripped the edge of the seat, swaying. My skin sung as every muscle in my body went rigid, because this wasn’t just a story. This was my life.”
When seventeen-year-old Ashley Watson walks through the halls of her high school bullies taunt and shove her. She can’t go a day without fighting with her mother. And no matter how hard she tries, she can’t make her best friend, Matt, fall in love with her. But Ashley also has something no one else does: a literal glimpse into the future. When Ashley looks into the mirror she can see her twenty-three-year-old self.
Her older self has been through it all already-she endured the bullying, survived the heartbreak, and heard every ugly word her classmates threw at her. But her older self is also keeping a dark secret: something terrible is about to happen to Ashley. Something that will change her life forever. Something even her older self is powerless to stop.
Ashley Watson made a dumb, foolish mistake and has spent the rest of her high school life paying for it, a social pariah to be bullied and tormented without reprieve. All Ashley wants is to escape the hell that is high school, win an art scholarship and live her dreams in New York with her best friend and crush Matt. The only problem is, the harassment and abuse interferes with her life and Matt doesn’t know her feelings for him. Most of her time is spent dodging her peers, ignoring comments, and making herself small so that maybe, just maybe, she can have a break for once.
When Matt starts dating one of Ashley’s tormentors, Ashley is forced into a new social setting, one with the populars who hate her. Matt thinks it will be a great idea, a way to get over the past but Ashley knows better. Ashley has a secret; her twenty-three-year-old self appears to her in the mirror, telling her how to make her choices to lead to a better fate. But Other Ashley is vague, busy, and Ashley doesn’t know if she can trust herself even as an older incarnate. Older Ashley is sad, sympathetic to her bullying but urges Ashley to fight, to not let the bullies win.
Ashley feels like curling up into a ball and never getting up as the bullying become progressively worse and Matt starts to lose faith in her. Ashley in the mirror tries to help but Ashley knows everything is quickly spiraling out of control and building up to a single moment, one that would define her, rip her apart, and change the entire course of her life. Older Ashley has already lived it and even knowing what she does is incapable of stopping it. Ashley must overcome, fight back, and win in order to survive a fate that would make even more of a prisoner than she already is.
Every Ugly Word is a surreal and heartbreaking insight into the crippling psychological effects of bullying. Ashley’s story is one of those that sticks with you, creeping under your skin and begging you to open your eyes to the devastating reality of just how much power words have and how they can be just as deadly or mighty as the the sword.
- Ashley’s relationship with her mother was one of the most infuriating, traumatic, and emotionally disastrous relationships I’ve ever read. It was written so well that it’s easy to channel and sympathize with Ashley’s rage. Her mother just doesn’t get it. Her advice is useless, based on gender stereotypes and ridiculous societal expectations and what’s worse, no matter how much Ashley yearns for her mother to understand she can’t get through. Ashley’s mother is one of those empty shell people, who parrot the ideas of others and throw out bad advice because they can only see one solution, one that doesn’t work. The damage her mother causes is raw, it shreds through her defenses and seeps beneath the surface as the underlying trauma, her original abuser. It’s the small digs, the comments on her appearance, the way she thinks everything can be solved if Ashley just tried harder and made people like her through being attractive. Everything is Ashley’s fault and her mother is sure to reinforce that mentality. At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, yeah, her mother’s set in her ways, she’s full of stupid advice, and her comments are enough to make anyone smack their head against the wall but this is part of the problem. We gloss over the little barbs, the small critiques and bullying from our loved ones and overlook their impact just because it’s not as overt. Aimee L. Salter does an amazing job capturing the subtle but profound effects of these interactions and shows that bullying comes in many faces and disguises, some more obvious than others.
- The structure of the story was brilliant. Looking back on the incidents that lead her to her seat in a psych ward through recounting them a therapy session, Ashley is able to reflect on her choices and cross-examine herself. Ironically, though Ashley is trying to convey what she thinks the doctor wants to hear to be released, this structure allows for Ashley to be called out, to look deeper, to analyze her feelings and because of this they’re more honest, authentic, and emphasize what Ashley felt during the events leading up to this point.
- Ashley is an unbelievably strong, resilient young woman. She suffers every day both at home and at school, art is her only way to alleviate the pain. It would be so easy for Ashley to give up, to collapse into her heartache, to let the words conquer her soul and break her into a thousand emotional fragments but she perseveres. She tries hard to understand why her attackers treat her so poorly, to stand up to their abuse, to not cause anymore drama but they’re like vultures, pecking and tears pieces of her away with every interaction. Ashley wants to love, to find happiness, and be her own person away from her past but it’s always harder than it seems and for Ashley it looks impossible. Despite everything, Ashley still has hope. This is remarkable, that someone so battered and knocked down could dare to dream at all. Ashley’s emotions are jagged, open wounds, her heart bleeds at every taunt and the wounds seem incapable of closing. Ashley’s feelings are scattered but written so brutally honest that everything she experiences is shared with the reader. Her fear, longing, the sick, hollow feeling of being worthless, of not knowing how to live another day under such horrendous circumstances is all there and sometimes it’s hard to read.
- The Other/Older Ashley was a fascinating concept, it added an air of mystery and uncertainty to the plot.
- The bullies are truly despicable, disgusting people. The way they attack Ashley both physically and emotionally is enough to make anyone sick with anger. The bullying is real, believable and something that could happen in a high school setting. The lack of interference by her peers, the self involved turning of cheek and averting of eyes happens every day when it comes to abuse, whether it’s the in your face kind or something more quiet. Every Ugly Word is a book that makes you think and question, that will make you want to really see what’s going on around you and help those in need.
- The ending scene in the office. It was chaotic, fueled by hysteria and confusion. At first the scene was disheartening, a total destruction of hope for Ashley’s future, which, though disappointing was fitting with the general storyline. Then, things got weird. The entire time, as a reader you are pressured to question the narrator, to get into her psyche and figure out what’s real, to glimpse her trauma and get how it resulted in her reality, Older Ashley. This scene was unexpected, surreal, and crossed the line between reality and fantasy. Symbolically, it’s a golden, poignantly emotional scene but as an actual situation it changed the whole story and while uplifting, took away from her trauma. I really don’t know how to explain just how important this shift is without spoilers but it was a bit of a let down.
- How Ashley got into the mess of bullying and harassment was hard to swallow. Yes, everyone makes mistakes and no, she did not deserve the harsh consequences of her actions but sometimes, it was hard to sympathize with her because she caused emotional carnage too and that’s barely mentioned except in small, hostile accusations from Finn.
- Ashley’s idolization of Matt is a little sickening. He is her only friend but her blindness to the way that he too is abusive in their friendship emotionally made me seethe. Matt is far from perfect, she holds him on a pedestal and clings to him in an unhealthy way and Matt just seems to brush off her issues and look at her like she’s being a silly drama queen hunkering for attention. For me, Matt was not the gorgeous love interest, perfect for Ashley, but an exacerbation of her pain. While Ashley did need someone to get her through the bullying, Other Ashley seemed like the psychological solution, albeit strange.
If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this: