Wow. I have quite the love-hate relationship with this book, much like the novel’s protagonist, Ellie, has with her frienemy-turned-romantic-interest Flynn Hendrick. On one hand, it was a mostly well-written story and a well-done depiction of a young adult on the Autism Spectrum, which was good. It depicts the Asperger’s character as multi-faceted and a sexual being, and the characters were pleasingly three-dimensional. But on the other hand, it was so damned depressing. I kept having to put it down and not wanting to return to it, because it just barely involved me enough to move past the uber-heavy subject matter.
Flynn, who has Asperger’s, is tormented by a gang of kids as a teenager, flanked reluctantly by the girl he falls hard for, Ellie McCallum. In the privacy of Flynn’s home, Ellie is his ‘friend.’ At school, with the clique watching, she is anything but. Flynn, an innocent, naive boy with a literal mind and a blunt tongue, can’t understand why Ellie hurts and betrays him again and again. Years later, Ellie runs into Flynn again when he returns to his hometown of Wellston, West Virginia. She’s still the same small-minded pathetic person, and he’s the same shy, awkward young man.
The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Flynn and Ellie. Flynn’s POV sections are set in the past, when he is brutalized by Ellie’s friends while Ellie watches and doesn’t lift a finger to help. Ellie’s chapters are set present-day, as she and Flynn reconnect and Ellie experiences an emotional awakening. The flashbacks are devastating, but the present-day chapters have an unnerving vibe because of how cruel Ellie was to Flynn, so watching them get cozy is discomforting to say the least. The only thing I can compare it to is a romance where the rapist hooks up with victim. What Ellie did to Flynn was emotional rape, and Flynn’s easy forgiveness of his tormenter is heartbreaking.
Yet, despite everything, I DO feel for Ellie. She’s a broken girl who grows up to be a troubled woman, hanging out with the same trash that accompanied her through the high school halls. These include Dania, expectant mother and drunk/addict extraordinaire, and Stu, a cruel and often downright sociopathic creep who callously uses women for sex. Ellie narration explains her actions somewhat, and she grows hugely as a character throughout the duration of the novel.
The writing is mostly good, though I found some of the lovey-dovey and sex scenes to contain more cheese than necessary. Ellie’s emotional dependance on Flynn to feel like half a person was disturbing, and I found it hard to believe that a relationship between a considerably Autistic and neurotic man and a self-loathing woman with her own baggage could work. I empathized with their love, but between Ellie’s meanness and Flynn’s tantrums, I couldn’t fully ‘ship’ this couple.
Although I found the subject matter painful, I am glad I read this book. The author obviously did her research on Autism, and there were many aspects of the novel I appreciated. On a side note, the editing needed a lot of work. There was a lot of incorrect homonym usage (“There” and “Their,” anyone?) and the book often read like a rough draft in terms of spelling and grammar. Although I had moments when I wasn’t enjoying this book too much, I am excited for the sequel, ‘Chasing the Tide,’ and want to continue Ellie and Flynn’s story when the novel comes out. I just sincerely hope A. Meredith Walters hires a new editor. A book I would recommend, but with some hesitation, as I think the subject matter could have been done slightly better.