Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Published: 4-1-07 by Flux
Get the book: Amazon
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.
Design – Lisa Novak Photo – Antonio Mo Rating – 3/5
The cover is dark and minimal, which is ok. I don’t like that the male on the cover has a tattoo since Caleb is never said to have one. Is this just to suggest someone that has been arrested? Because that’s very stereotypical. I don’t think the cover shows much at all about the story or the characters. it does show that Maggie chooses to trust Caleb, by the way she’s holding his hand and looking toward him. It looks like they’re leaving immediately, which works with the title, but doesn’t really suggest the overall plot.
There were some really great aspects to this book, but there seemed to be an equal number of drawbacks. The book blogging world raves about Simone Elkeles’ books, but I thought this one was just ok. The ending really soured my view of the entire book because it was so unexpected and rushed.
- Caleb – I was surprised that I enjoyed reading from Caleb’s perspective so much. I usually have a huge disconnect with main characters of the horny male variety, but it was a pleasant change that Caleb was a more substantial character than that. He knew that everything was going to be different, but he’s not willing to just lay down and accept his family’s reactions to the accident or his homecoming. he isn’t satisfied with what the school’s opinion of him is, or what Maggie thinks of him – and he takes steps to change these things. No one is expecting much of him. He doesn’t exactly set out to prove them wrong, but he does show that there is more to him than people see.
- Mrs. Reynolds – From the first second Mrs. Reynolds is on the scene, she’s stubborn and independent. She clearly cares about Maggie but she doesn’t hesitate to call her out when she won’t push herself. Mrs. Reynolds is the feisty old lady who doesn’t take anyone’s crap, knows what she wants, and is willing push Maggie and Caleb out of their comfort zones.
- Maggie’s mom – She works so hard and wants everything for her daughter. She puts Maggie’s needs before her own and pushes Maggie to work for what she wants. When she starts to find romance with her boss, she makes sure Maggie is ok with her dating him, since she and Maggie are the entire family.
- Caleb + Maggie – I liked the whole plot that threw them together and made them see the physical and mental scars that the accident left the other with. Although they each have their own secrets and battles, dealing with each other is difficult as well.
- Caleb’s family – Caleb’s family is crazy messed up. I can understand if they need time to adjust because Caleb’s back from lock up, but this goes way beyond that. His mom acts like she’s putting on a performance for her friends, his dad is basically a guy that happens to live in their house, and his twin sister Leah has completely given up on living life.
- ending – I hated the ending. It was so abrupt. I thought it was lame, and felt like someone had come along at the 11th hour and suggested that the author write two books. Because, hey, if you write one book with a ridiculous cliffhanger ending that ends your narrative in the middle, then people will definitely have to buy the 2nd book right? It was like there was a huge buildup, then everything happened at once – really quickly, and then it was just over, and it really bothered me.
- Kendra – I see how Kendra was the catalyst for the plot, but she’s completely awful. Every time she showed up, I just hoped someone would get mad enough to punch her. Each time she opened her mouth, no truth came out and everything got so twisted. I wish Caleb would have just stopped putting up with her about halfway through the book.
- Caleb’s friends – Caleb’s friends are awful. They are rude, cruel, and clueless. It would’ve been nice to see some context – from before Caleb went to jail – why are these his friends? Before the accident, would Caleb have made fun of people with them? Would he have even noticed their cruelty toward Maggie? Caleb’s friends were so insensitive – in every way imaginable. It’s like to compensate for their awkwardness around Caleb, they just became bigger jerks.
- I think back to last night, when Maggie tried to stand. The fierce pain she felt was emphasized by her clenched teeth, balled fists, and furrowed eyebrows. Since I’ve been home, Maggie has been the only person I’ve actually reached out to touch. It hadn’t gone well. – Caleb pg. 53
- “Stop caring what everyone thinks!” I yell. “You’re killing the entire family.” “Did you think about the entire family when you hit Maggie?” she whispers, then huffs out a disgusted breath. “This isn’t about me, Mom.” I don’t tell her it never was about me. – Caleb + his mom pg. 280