Simone Elkeles Leaving Paradise
303 pp. Flux (Llewellyn Publications) 2007 ISBN: 978-0-7387-1018-1
Source: Received through Donors Choose fundraiser
Interest: Student recommended
Summary (From Goodreads): Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.
After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free . . . if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers.
Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as “criminal” and “freak.” Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other.
After students recommended Simone Elkeles over and over, I broke down and read Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction. Since reading those I knew I had to read Leaving Paradise–Simone Elkeles is that good. Once my student returned Leaving Paradise I immediately put it in my bag to take home and read.
I will admit that while I was taken in by the story, there was a time when I considered putting it down and trying something different. I think it was about half-way through the book that I wondered when the story was going to pick up. It wasn’t that I thought the story was bad, but it was starting to drag on. For example, I started thinking to myself “Something needs to happen between Caleb and Maggie.” I’m happy I didn’t put it down because about 20 pages after that something did! And it was worth the wait.
The romance isn’t as steamy and angsty as in the Perfect Chemistry novels, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Caleb and Maggie aren’t like that because they have too much going on internally. The internal struggles they face are the biggest part of the story, in my opinion. Maggie is dealing with the debilitating limp and deep scars–both on her legs and in her soul–from the accident. She lost part of herself that night and doesn’t know how, or if, she’ll ever get it back. She’s taunted at school and has become a loner. Caleb has just been released from juvie and has a ton of weight on his shoulders. He wants to go back to his life before that night, but it’s impossible when his family has become distant and his friends don’t know how to act around him. Now he and Maggie are starting back to school at the same time. The tension and emotions run high!
The minor characters play a big part in Leaving Paradise. I love Mrs. Reynolds! She doesn’t like mindless chatter, which entertained me to no end. And she really pushes Maggie to try new things and let go of her fears. Maggie’s mom and Caleb’s mom parallel each other in their differences. Maggie’s mom is very involved and protective. Caleb’s mom is distant and doesn’t seem to care. They’re important to the story because they drive a lot of Maggie and Caleb’s actions. They really irritated me though. I can’t get over how cold Caleb’s mom is. And I understand how loving and caring Maggie’s mom is–my mom would be the same way. But I just wanted her to give Maggie some space!
This was a fun book to read and it really picked up the pace within the last 100 pages or more. My girls in class will really like Leaving Paradise. I can imagine them easily connecting with Caleb and Maggie.