Title: Leaving Paradise / Return to Paradise
Author: Simone Elkeles
Published: April 2007 / September 2010 (Flux)
Summary: 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.
My Review: I was very intrigued by the premise of this duo; there was so much you could do with this unique storyline. I started Leaving Paradise with some pretty high expectations. After all, I had been impressed by Elkeles before (particularly with Perfect Chemistry. SO MUCH LOVE.). My sister raved about these books. They both had a 4+ Goodreads rating. Everything pointed toward them being pretty darn great. I did enjoy them, but unfortunately, they both fell short of my expectations.
Like I said, I was super interested in the premise of these. I'd never seen a book address this subject before. I couldn't wait to see how the dynamic would be handled. It would definitely be a difficult subject to tackle, and I think Elkeles did well with it. It may have been that I wasn't in the mood for it that day, but the books were a little too much of a downer for me. It wasn't your typical teenage angst with the additional problems of the whole he-went-to-prison-for-hitting-her-with-a-car thing, because believe me, I enjoy a good angst-fest; it was that everything sucked for these two. There was barely a shred of light or optimism to be found. This can be a fantastic mechanism for writing, if used well (see: Forbidden, When He Was Wicked, several hundred fanfics I've read, and more), but in these, it just felt depressing. The books were too underwhelming; they didn't grab me quite enough to have the desired effect. I didn't like how the first one ended, although I understood why it ended the way it did. I was also extremely appreciative of the fact that I had the second readily available, as opposed to having to wait 3 years for it to come out. I read both of these books in one day, which is partially why I'm reviewing them together. Because, in my mind, they were just one longer book.
One thing that I definitely loved was the wonderful build-up to Caleb and Maggie's relationship. Build-up is, quite typically, a huge factor in how much I enjoy a relationship in a book, television series, or anything else. Just because, quite honestly, the majority of the time, it's just nowhere near as good once the relationship actually happens. They get boring, or the characters start acting like a cookie-cutter couple, and lose their individuality. It happens. Anyway. Behold tangent #783; stay tuned for more in the future.
Another thing I appreciated in these books was the realistic approach to things. Elkeles is extremely talented in giving all her books a definite sense of authenticity. The Paradise duo was no exception. These circumstances could have happened in real life, and nothing was glossed over. Elkeles did a great job with this. Overall, although they did not meet my expectations by any means, the Paradise books were still worth the read. I liked watching how Maggie and Caleb grew up as individuals and together as a couple.
❝I can’t believe I’m seventeen and thinking about the good old days.❞
❝Thinking too hard and too long is dangerous for anyone with demons they’re trying to fight off.❞
❝According to Vanessa, my limp and scars don’t matter. I’m a cool chick. I just have to start believing it.❞
Purchase Leaving Paradise at: Amazon || Barnes & Noble || The Book Depository
Purchase Return to Paradise at: Amazon || Barnes & Noble || The Book Depository