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.
Every Ugly Word really took me by surprise. I thought, after reading the summary, that it was going to be a book about bullying with a small dose of magical realism. And it was, but the magical realism element was really unique. It had a psychological thriller aspect to it that kept me thinking about the story long after I finished reading it.
I am glad that the authors of YA literature are starting to write about bullying. It is a very relevant topic, and worthy of inclusion in the YA genre. I think that nearly everyone experiences bullying at some point in their life, whether they are the victim, the bully, or their friend is affected.
Ashely is the target of two of her school's most popular kids: Finn and Karen. For whatever reason---do bullies ever have a good reason for picking on someone?---Finn and Karen set out to make her life miserable. And they succeed in full. Ashley is depressed, constantly tortured at school and via social media, and can't even take solace in her mother's care: her mother thinks that the bullying is Ashley's fault. To add to her desperation, Ashley is hopelessly in love with her best friend, Matt, who sadly does not share her feelings. Matt's friendship is Ashley's only buffer in the storm of high school, and when Matt and Karen start to date, he becomes less of an advocate for Ashley, right when she needs him the most.
Just this premise alone would have made for a great, emotional read. But the addition of magical realism: the fact that when Ashley looks in the mirror, she can see herself six years in the future, made this book so unique and intriguing. I loved Ashley's interactions with Older Me. They made me remember my high school years, which were not always great, and I remembered that desperate feeling of wanting to know that things would be better for me when high school was over. Salter captured those feelings perfectly, and the emotions of both present-day Ashley and future Ashley jumped off the pages. I found myself tearing up several times while reading Every Ugly Word, because of how invested I was in Ashley's emotional well-being.
The ending of the book really took me by surprise. For most of the book, it was very clear which Ashley was narrating: the present-day Ashley or the older Ashley. However, at the end, the two stories converged. Twice, I actually had to flip back a few pages to make it clear which Ashley was the current narrator. This slight confusion was the only thing I didn't love about this story.
If you are new to magical realism, don't shy away from Every Ugly Word. This book is a perfect blend of contemporary fiction with a dash of magical realism, and an emotional journey full of character growth. I highly recommend Every Ugly Word and look forward to reading more from Aimee Salter.