Before reading on, may I just say that RECLAIMING THE SAND has been a totally worthwhile and amazing read. Fair warning though: this is one of the longest reviews I’ve written.
When I learned about A. Meredith Walters’ new book, I was over-the-moon excited to get my hands on it (and I’m really grateful to have been chosen as one of the lucky few to receive the ARC). And after reading the book, I’m rating it with 5 out of 5 stars. No brainer about that. RECLAIMING THE SAND evoked in me all the pain, turmoil, and angst like a book only A. Meredith Walters can write.
*THIS IS A STAND ALONE WITH NO CLIFFHANGER!*
Bully and victim.
Tormenter and tormented.
Villain and hero.
Ellie McCallum was a bully. No connection to anyone or anything. A sad and lonely existence for a young woman who had come to expect nothing more for herself. Her only happiness coming from making others miserable.
Particularly Freaky Flynn.
Flynn Hendrick lived a life completely disconnected even as he struggled to become something more than that boy with Asperger's. He was taunted and teased, bearing the brunt of systematic and calculated cruelty, ultimately culminating in a catastrophic turn of events that brought Ellie and Flynn’s worlds crashing down.
But then Flynn and Ellie grew up.
And moved on.
Until years later when their paths unexpectedly cross again and the bully and the freak are face to face once more.
When labels come to define you, finding yourself feels impossible. Particularly for two people disconnected from the world who inexplicably find a connection in each other.
And out of the wreckage of their tragic beginnings, an unlikely love story unfolds.
But a painful past doesn’t always want to let go. And old wounds are never truly healed…and sometimes the further you try to run from yourself the closer you come to who you really are.
Reclaiming the Sand was something else entirely.
I can’t get over how depressing this book is. Not in the sense that I couldn’t stand to read the book… not at all. It’s just that the characters are living in this bleak, dreary world and I can’t help but feel how trapped they are. I got sucked into their lives and it was miserable. That’s the beautiful thing about A. Meredith Walters’ work. You get sucked right into the story without even realizing it.
It starts off with a prologue that tells the whole story in a nutshell. It is told in the perspective of Ellie McCallum and right from the get-go, it would be impossible for readers to miss how messed up this girl is… because Ellie McCallum is one huge ball of self-loathing. But as messed up as she is, she got two things right.
"You will hate me. You will love him."
The book may have been told (most of it, anyway) from Ellie’s perspective but I can’t help but feel that she’s the antagonist in this whole thing. She’s the character I loved to hate.
At the beginning, I felt remorseful for her because it was clear how she’s stuck in her life. How she’s stuck in the Wellsburg, West Virginia, in the same old town with the same old people. She’s stuck but she’s also dying to get free, to be something – someone… more. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that she’s that way because of the choices she has made in her life.
Growing up in the system couldn’t have been a walk in the park and it made Ellie the broken, angry girl that she is. She was forced to deal with a lot of shit growing up and shit was all that she’s ever known. She can’t help but also feel that it was all she can ever expect in her life.
Meeting Flynn Hendrick challenged everything that Ellie has ever known. He is so unlike anybody in Wellsburg... except for Ellie, that is. Flynn has always struggled to understand other people but Ellie had as much difficulty as Flynn in that department. Her inability to emotionally connect with another person keeps her from forming real and meaningful relationships. Even though their lives are immensely different from each other's, its clear to see that they share the same struggles.
As a reader I can definitely see how Flynn is like a breath of fresh air. And as fucked up as Ellie may be, she definitely saw how different Flynn is. The problem is, she wasn’t the only one. All her friends saw how different he is and latched on to that in the worst possible way. Calling him names, taunting him, and basically making his life in Wellsburg miserable. Freaky Flynn’s quirky and eccentric nature made him a prime target for the bullies of Wellsburg. And that included Ellie.
But fate can be a fickle mistress...
They tried to escape their pasts. Fate had other plans...
What Ellie and Flynn did not anticipate was the depth of their connection to each other. After spending more and more time together (albeit, in secret), an unconventional friendship develops.
As much as I wanted to identify with her, I can’t. She’s a certified Grade-A bitch. My heart broke for Flynn whenever Ellie put him down. It felt like she was stringing him along and I cannot understand what Flynn ever saw in her. Even though I’d love to hate her, there were moments that made my heart melt for them both. Of course, I only wish I could smack her in the head and make her see how much she was hurting Flynn. It was really frustrating to read about how long it took her to realize that her friends aren’t who she thinks they are and that the only real friend she’s ever had was the one person she keeps hurting day after day.
I guess, what’s so endearing about this book is that as horrible as Ellie may seem to be, A. Meredith Walters found a way to make the readers love her all the same. I am impressed with how A. Meredith Walters was able to create such complex and multidimensional characters. At first glance, Ellie seems to be the type of girl who’d go nowhere on life but as I page after page of her story, I found that Ellie’s got a light that’s just waiting to come out, that much was certain. After dissecting and understanding her as character (which was way difficult to do, by the way), at the core, she’s really just a messed up girl who’s trying to find her way back, trying to finally set things right. Ellie is at constant war with herself. She's trying to reconcile the two parts of her: the Ellie that everyone knows and Flynn's Ellie. She's desperately trying to find who she is and who she's supposed to be.
And just as she’s finally beginning to stand up on her feet, Flynn comes back to Wellsburg after years of being away and confuses Ellie all over again.
Flynn’s reappearance kindles the embers of a long forgotten friendship and stokes the fire of a guilt that she cannot escape. Now that they’ve found each other again, Ellie is determined to do right by Flynn. Against all odds, he has forgiven her… it’s about time she earned that forgiveness.
This is the part that I absolutely LOVED about RECLAIMING THE SAND. I saw how Ellie grew up almost immediately, how she shook off the cruelty of her highschool self and embrace the good side of Ellie that Flynn brings out in her. As she tries to make amends for everything she has done to Flynn, I was able to get over my hatred for her and begin to understand whatever choices she made. I understood that it wasn’t all her fault, her so-called friends basically pushed her to those things and as a foolish young girl, all Ellie could do was comply.
Ellie and Flynn’s relationship was bittersweet for most of the book. A. Meredith Walters presented the romance in small, tasteful increments throughout the novel instead of one giant, passion-driven love affair. It created a slow build-up that made the story even more irresistible. Each encounter between Ellie and Flynn made the butterflies in my stomach go wild and the thing about it is, they don’t even do much of anything.
The emotional connection that the author established between her characters and her ability to transcend beyond the pages of the book captured my heart and made me want to fall into their world and never look back. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to be drawn so intimately into a book and to feel like I just couldn't (and would not want to) let go.
The themes of the story go beyond the premise of a friendship-slash-love gone wrong. RECLAIMING THE SAND shows Ellie’s journey of self-discovery, of figuring out what she wants out of life and going out there to get it. Strengthened by the Flynn’s faith in her and the love they’ve found in each other, they’ve finally found the way to forgiving each other faults and reclaiming the sands of opportunity they let slip through their fingers. Together, they learn to forgive themselves for the damage they’ve done to each other and heal each other in the process.
I had been slowly dying for all these years and he brought me back to life.
A. Meredith Walters has done it again. RECLAIMING THE SAND is an emotionally debilitating book and I savored every moment of pain and heartache, of hope and forgiveness. Even though it started out a bit too slow for me, the latter parts of the book more than makes up for it’s slow build up. A. Meredith Walters gives us an ending filled with hope. It’s all a bit vague about what really happens to their story and I would love to read an extended epilogue. Yes, I hated Ellie. Yes, I loved Flynn. Yes, that’s exactly what Ellie said would happen. But in the end, I learned to love THEM. Ellie and Flynn. They may be messed up by themselves, but together, they’re really something beautiful.