All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Leaving Paradise – Simone Elkeles

on December 1, 2010

Leaving Paradise had been on my radar for a little while but it wasn’t until I read Shannon’s review over at Giraffe Days that it went from just being on the radar to ‘must have right now’ and I ordered it and the sequel, Return to Paradise that day.

Almost a year ago, Maggie’s life changed forever when she was run down and left for dead by a drunk driver. Suffering horrific injuries, she spent a lengthy amount of time in hospital, having operations to try and mend her smashed leg and when the book opens, is still attending physical therapy and rehab sessions. She walks with a severe limp and is no longer able to play tennis or compete in athletics the way she did prior to the accident. She’s a fragile person, shattered by the accident and also her dad’s desertion of her and her mother. He disappeared into a new life, with a new wife and barely contacts her. All her friends have dropped off, leaving her isolated and withdrawn.

What makes it worse is that the guy who ran her down was Caleb Becker, her next door neighbour, twin brother of her friend Leah, and crush. Caleb admitted that he had been drinking and that he didn’t go back to the scene of the accident after he’d hit Maggie. What’s worse is that Maggie had told him something that he didn’t want to hear just before the accident and a little part of her mind wonders if Caleb didn’t see her and run her down on purpose, just because he was angry with her. Sentenced to time in a juvenile correctional facility, Caleb is released six months early on good behaviour and considered to be remorseful and rehabilitated for his crime. He returns to their town of Paradise, much to Maggie’s horror. Maggie had been planning to to go Spain on exchange after the summer, and be long gone when Caleb was released. Now Caleb is out and Maggie’s trip to Spain on the brick of collapsing, she has to deal with these two devastating incidents at once.

Caleb and Maggie are further thrown together when Maggie is hired as a companion for an elderly lady who is the mother of Maggie’s mother’s boss. Mrs Reynolds is a plain-speaking but very kind-hearted lady who hires Maggie for the summer to help her save her money to go to Spain when her athletic scholarship for the exchange falls through. Maggie spends her time helping Mrs Reynolds plant bulbs, clean out her attic and generally provide some company, a peaceful and enjoyable task that is shattered when Caleb, working for a hardware store as part of his community service, delivers something to Mrs Reynolds and she hires him to build the gazebo in her backyard that she has been planning.

Maggie liked Caleb once, before he ran her down with a car. Thrown into such close proximity to him again, she can’t help but learn to like Caleb again, and with the help of Mrs Reynolds, learn to forgive him. They become close, each of them feeling like outcasts in their town, seeking solace in each other. They spend time together at Mrs Reynolds and then elsewhere, slowly trying to re-establish some shattered trust. Just when they are almost there, Maggie is startled by a memory that changes everything.

This book packed a punch. Drink driving is a really big problem in Australia, which a huge amount of accidents caused by people who get behind the wheel after they’ve had too much to drink and nothing the government or anti-drink driving campaigning groups seem to come up with gets through to a part of the population. People still get in their cars and drive home after too many drinks, after too big a night, after too long a partying session. So I was immediately sympathetic to Maggie, walking along a road minding her own business when an incident happened due to a careless driver that changed her life forever.

It’s a testament to Elkele’s writing that she was able to make Caleb an understandable and sympathetic character right from the beginning. He’s just a kid really, despite all the tough bravado and the growing-up-too-fast that occurs while he’s serving his time in the juvenile correctional facility. He’s a kid who apparently made a stupid, stupid mistake that hurt someone else terribly and he’s owned up to it, served his time, gotten released and now just wants to get on with his life. He can’t help himself around Maggie, he still treats her as he would’ve before the accident and it’s Maggie that flinches whenever he’s near her, or whenever he puts a hand out to assist her if she’s unsteady on her feet. It’s through persistence and Caleb trying to prove himself to her and fix things that Maggie is able to get past this. They are both alone – Maggie used to be semi-popular before the accident but most of her friends have dropped off during her absence from school and just stare and whisper once she returns. Caleb, extremely popular before going to juvie is still ‘the man’ when he gets back but he’s different now, he’s rougher, edgier and less patient with his friends and their childish cracks and jokes. He doesn’t feel like he belongs with them anymore than Maggie does and the two are drawn to each other more and more, finding a sympathetic and understanding ear in each other.

We hear both sides of view, as the chapters alternate between Maggie and Caleb so we’re always privy to the fact that something isn’t entirely right but to me, that isn’t even the main focus of most of the story. The story itself is the connection that exists between Caleb and Maggie, the solace they find in each other even after they were involved in something so shattering. They are believable and you find yourself caring for them and secretly urging them to let things go and be happy with each other, no matter what others will think. But they both have baggage and issues, including some that don’t have anything to do with the accident itself.

Just a warning: if you read this novel, make sure you have the sequel handy nearby. Because the way this one ends you’re going to want to pick up Return to Paradise the second you close this one and lay it aside.

I really enjoyed Elkele’s writing in this story – it drew me in from the first page and kept me up at night until I’d finished and then left me hanging. It was 1am so I told myself I’d wait until morning to start Return to Paradise! I am now off to order Elkele’s other novels, Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction. Shannon, you’re an enabler!


Book #102 for 2010

This book qualifies for my What’s In A Name3? Challenge. This fits into Criteria #5 – Read a book with a place name in the title. Paradise is the town Maggie and Caleb live in.

One criteria left  #2 – Read a book with a body of water in the title

3 responses to “Leaving Paradise – Simone Elkeles

  1. Shannon says:

    I’m so glad you liked it! I like the way she tackles this issue too, even if there is a bit of a “twist” to it. I think you’ll really like Perfect Chemistry too. Do you have the sequel to this one yet?

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