Bullying is one of those age-old issues that has hit national consciousness with a vengeance thanks to its transformation with the internet. Author Aimee L. Salter takes her personal experiences and adds a bit of a tech twist in Every Ugly Word to bring Ashley’s torture into the 21st century, although, notably, the story never deals with bullying via social media. Because the main plot is set in a small town, I easily believe how trapped Ashley felt throughout the story. College and leaving her tormentors behind clearly are the only ways to rebuild her public image, although it will take a lot more for Ashley to change what she thinks of herself.
While I sympathize with Ashley’s situation throughout Every Ugly Word, I don’t particularly like her as a character. I think my main issue with her stems from the reason for the start of the bullying: while most targets simply are different in some way, Ashley actively invited the bullying through spreading a lie about friends who become her primary tormentors. She doesn’t deserve the degree of abuse she suffers after her poor decision, but I want to beat my head into my computer monitor when I consider that Ashley didn’t think there could be consequences for her actions. I also struggle with her relationship with Matt, because while he provides support, he also tries to force Ashley into social situations with the bullies under the guise of “everyone getting to know each other better.” Given a sincere apology at the time of Ashley’s faux pas couldn’t smooth things over, I feel that a good friend wouldn’t value his social position over his friend’s emotional needs. Matt also is broken enough from his family issues that it seems like two very emotionally damaged people clinging to each other, which seems fundamentally unhealthy.
The plot of Every Ugly Word is framed as Ashley retelling her experiences to a psychiatrist/psychologist in a mental health unit, where she is committed, which gives the tale a disjointed air. At the same time, the writing flowed so well that even when I struggled with the main character, I desperately needed to know how things would tie up, because I couldn’t see any sort of positive ending. I wanted to know what finally pushed Ashley into a psychiatric facility and if there was any way to fix things to allow her to heal and be free from everything. The final message was one of hope for anyone who has ever been the target of bullies: your people are out there, and you can be free.
Overall, I think that Every Ugly Word is an important book, because it reveals the effects of bullying from the point of view of the target. The story also delves a little into how not valuing yourself can attract cruel individuals, which is an important and difficult lesson. For me I didn’t necessarily find the book entertaining, but I desperately wanted to know Ashley’s fate. Even though I didn’t connect emotionally with the protagonist, Salter did her job; she made me care enough to want to see how the story finally ended.
4 Painfully Revealing Self-Portraits out of 5