Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: Leaving Paradise

Leaving Paradise
By Simone Elkeles
Publication date: April 1, 2007


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:

After reading Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction I became a fan of Simone Elkeles. Both of those books focus on the intense romance and attraction between the main characters. Leaving Paradise is a very different type of book. It still has romance and the chapters alternate between Caleb and Maggie but the focus is on the healing and repairing of broken relationships. The car accident affected more than Caleb and Maggie. Before the night of the accident, Caleb's mom and Maggie's mom were best friends as were Maggie and Caleb's twin sister Leah. Now Caleb's mom is obsessed with perfection and unable to show affection to her son and Leah has turned into a sullen Goth. I like that the novel explores these relationships instead of just focusing on Caleb and Maggie.

Maggie is dealing with a lot of anger and pain. She has been unable to forgive Caleb or to move on. She is ashamed of her scars and her limp. All Maggie can think about is escaping Paradise, the wagging tongues, and the reminders of the accident. Her goal is to get a scholarship to study in Spain for a semester. It is hard for Maggie to see Caleb when he comes back to town and then she loses her shot at the scholarship since she is no longer involved in sports. I really felt bad for Maggie even though I was also frustrated by her attitude at times when people try to reach out to her or when she gave up on her physical therapy. Maggie has managed to alienate her friends since the accident but she does make the acquaintance of Mrs. Reynolds, the mother of her mom's boss. Mrs. Reynolds is in need of a paid companion to assist her and Maggie needs money to go to Spain. Through spending time with Mrs. Reynolds, Maggie begins to face her fears. I think everyone needs a Mrs. Reynolds in their life. She was definitely one of my favorite characters.

I really liked Caleb's character. There is a lot more to him than it seems at first. He is treated unfairly by people in the community and even his own family but he doesn't let that stop him from trying to build a life for himself in Paradise. Caleb genuinely cares about Maggie and his sister. He tries to make amends for the accident and to help Maggie overcome her pain. I like how they slowly become friends and she starts to rely on him. It is a long road for her to forgive him but that made it more believable. I loved the romance between Maggie and Caleb and how natural it seemed. The two of them had known each other all their lives and Maggie had even had a crush on him. The accident and its aftermath binds them together even when Maggie's inability to forgive is a wedge between them.

I read and reviewed this book as part of Body Image and Self Perception Month. In Leaving Paradise, Maggie is struggling to see herself as a whole person after being hit by a car. She used to be an athlete but now she has difficulty just standing up. Maggie is not crippled but she behaves as though she is. At the beginning of the book Maggie believes she is hideously ugly because of her scars and the limp. All she can see is what she can't do and what she used to look like compared to now. By the end of the book thanks to the influence of Mrs. Reynolds and Caleb, Maggie is able to make peace with her scars and to accept herself as a whole person. I look forward to seeing where life takes Caleb and Maggie in the sequel, Return to Paradise, which will be released this fall. If you enjoyed Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction, you should definitely check out Leaving Paradise.

Body Image and Self Perception month is hosted by Jo at Once Upon a Bookcase. Be sure to check out the other reviews, author interviews, and special posts during the month of July!

Readalikes: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Beastly by Alex Flinn


  1. Great review! I loved Leaving Paradise, too! I'll have to check out Crazy Baeutiful!

  2. Awesome review. I have not read this but it sounds like a book I need to get and have in my classroom. I love the theme of acceptance that seems to run throughout the book and takes on several different forms.

  3. Great review, Christina! I absolutely loved Leaving Paradise, it was such a great story! I also loved Mrs Reynolds, she was just too cool!

    Thanks again for taking part in BI&SP Month!

  4. What an amazing review Christina!
    I have read a few articles on this book and I can't wait to get my hands on it!
    I feel that your review really shows that the most important scars are sometimes not the visible ones. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book and see you around the BI&SP Month!

  5. Great review! I read Perfect Chemistry and fell in love with Simone's writing style. I need to add this book to my TBR list. It sounds like something not only I would enjoy, but my students as well. Thanks for a thorough review, Christina!

  6. Mrs Reynolds was my favourite character in this book, too.

  7. Fantastic review! Sounds like this book is really intense. The characters sound great, too.


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