Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles (2007)
What happens when the person who damaged you for life....
Caleb Becker spent the past year in juvenile detention.
Maggie Armstrong spent the past year in hospitals and physical therapy.
Two teens who were scarred one fateful night are going to have to face their greatest challenge yet - meeting up with each other again.
....becomes the person you trust the most?
I believe it was Christine
who was the first person - at least from what I recall - who raved about Simone Elkeles
' Perfect Chemistry,
a book which I had to read and ending up loving so much. That experience immediately made me want to go and glom Ms. Elkeles' backlist. And what I found was this wonderfu book.
When we first meet Caleb, he's just about to be released from juvenile detention, where he was sent for driving drunk and being involved in a hit and run accident. It's been a scary, long and lonely year, and he never wants to go back there. But going home isn't easy either, as he has to try and fit back with his family after being gone for nearly a year, and things aren't the same, though his mother tries to pretend they are.
The person Caleb hit with his car was Maggie, his next door neighbor and sister's best friend. Maggie once had many friends and was active on the tennis team, but all that changed one horrifying night. Now she keeps to herself and tries to ignore the whispers and stares of her classmates. As long as she can hold out until her trip to Spain, then she won't have to deal with living next door to the boy who ruined her life.
However as much as Caleb and Maggie would like to avoid each other, circumstances keep bringing them back together, much to Maggie's dismay. She can't stand to see Caleb slipping back so easily into his old life, reconnecting with his buddies, and even taking up with his old girlfriend again. Not when everyone thinks she's the freak responsible for sending him away. She's more determined than ever to escape Paradise and maybe reclaim some of her old life back.
Despite what it looks like, Caleb isn't adjusting so easily, and a part of him is anxious to make things right. Will he get the chance to be forgiven, or is it way too late for that?
I think I have to say that I actually liked this book even more than Perfect Chemistry. And that's pretty hard to imagine, since that book was so incredibly satisfying. Maybe it was just the mood I was in last week, but this story really struck a cord with me. I felt torn because it was obvious that both these young people suffered greatly from the tragedy they experienced, and in the aftermath was a huge divide. Former friends no longer spoke to each other, neighbors became strangers. And still others were unable to cope very well at all and tried to pretend it never happened.
Such a simple story, yet Simone Elkeles writes in an utterly hypnotic, absorbing way. I felt Maggie's emotional pain, and ached for all she'd lost. I even sympathized with Caleb, and as I got to know him better, understood that he wasn't a completely bad guy. I liked that these characters are not stereotypical teenagers, and that sometimes they are more mature than adults, yet in other ways, just scared kids trying to fit in. Sometimes it's easier just to go along with the flow, even if it's not going in the direction that makes sense to you anymore.
There's a lot going on in this story, about trust, and loss, and letting go. It choked me up, and made me laugh. Sometimes I even longed for those days, while at the same time I felt very grateful I never have to go back there ever again.
I don't think I can do this story much justice, so instead I will highly encourage you to read it for yourself, and see if you consider it to be as engaging and as poignant as I did. Plus, I've discovered that it's quite lovely to read a story and not know exactly what to expect, so while I could recap the story and reveal several non-spoiler details, I believe I would be giving away moments that are much more rewarding to discover for yourself. It's one of the reasons I tend to avoid reviews more and more these days.
I don't think I'm giving anything away when I tell you that the sequel to this book will be out later this year. And if you're in the Chicago area, please note that Simone will be at a booksigning on April 17th! I definitely plan on attending, so I can personally thank her for writing the kinds of stories I wish I'd read as a teenager.
So if you are in the mood for a simple yet moving story, pick up this wonderful treasure. I think you might really find a lovely little story here :)
Rating: ***** out of *****
Labels: reviews, Simone Elkeles