Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Small town life can be peaceful, even idyllic but for Maggie Armstrong or Caleb Becker, their quaint hometown of Paradise, Illinois has come to mean nothing of the sort. Their lives were forever changed the night Caleb, drunk, got behind the wheel of a car and hit his twin sisters' best friend, Maggie, and then fled the scene of the crime. For the past year, he's grimly paid for his mistake in juvenile prison but to Maggie, Caleb's debt to her is far from paid. In the past year, she's had surgery after surgery to reconstruct her leg, leaving her with some nasty scars and an awkward limp. Once popular and athletic, Maggie is now a freak, a loner and bitter. Hoping to return to his former life after being released from jail, Caleb returns to find his family a hollow shell and his once easy friendships, forced. Neither are ready to face the reality or the consequences of that awful night one year ago but it's not easy to hide in a small town like Paradise. The past, even one as painful as Caleb and Maggie's, has a way of catching up with you.

Wow. I am fast becoming enamored with everything Simone Elkeles. After interviewing here on the bloggy last month (and loving her personality), I became curious about her other novels and decided I needed to track them down immediately. And boy, am I ever glad I found Leaving Paradise. From page one, Ms. Elkeles had me captured with descriptions of Caleb's anxiety over leaving juvie and Maggie's desperation to get out of Paradise. Leaving Paradise was again told from alternating POV chapters between Maggie and Caleb, like her Perfect Chemistry novels, which might have sealed the deal for me. This is actually one feature that I am coming to desperately love about Ms. Elkeles' books. She shifts so flawlessly back and forth between her male and female characters that it makes the novel simply fly by. Both voices fairly explode off the page in honesty and vibrancy. I'm beginning to think this technique is becoming a favorite of mine because it can subtly underscore the differences between such disparate characters like Maggie and Caleb without ever making direct comparisons. I'm all about a little subtly going a long way.

Leaving Paradise is a distinct departure from Simone Elkeles' fun and flirty Perfect Chemistry world. That's not to say that their isn't a hint of very real danger in Perfect Chemistry (there is) but Leaving Paradise was more of a emotionally taxing read. Maggie and Caleb have been dealt a pretty raw deal, which has left them extremely frustrated with their circumstances and feeling powerless to change them. Understandably, the struggles Maggie and Caleb face are some truly scary hurdles. Forgiveness. Self-acceptance. Trust. All very delicate topics that were handled with such straightforward honesty in this gut-wrenching book. And yet there were moments of humor and joy - just don't expect the entire book to be one big happily ever after. Because truthfully, the ending absolutely tore me up. I'm not kidding when I say it's one that will wring your heart a million times over and then leave you hoping, hoping for a better future for Maggie and Caleb. Because if anyone deserves it, those two do.

series reading order:
~ Leaving Paradise
~ Return to Paradise (September 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Pure Imagination review
Reviewer X review
Sophistikatied Reviews review
The YA, YA, YAs review


Angiegirl said...

*sigh* I loved this one. I loved it. It had heart.

Chachic said...

Angie's review convinced me to read this book and yours encouraged me further!

Michelle said...

Angie - Such heart!

Chachic - Yep, hers spurred me on as well. You have to find it though. It's all kinds of wonderful.