Since I loved Jennifer Echols’ Going Too Far, i was told that I would probably also like Simone Elkeles. I kept this in mind when I went to BEA, and I glommed onto every Elkeles book I could find. I got three – Leaving Paradise, Return to Paradise, and Rules of Attraction. After reading a bunch of speculative fiction books in a row, I was ready for a little genre palette cleansing, so I looked at my TBR and decided to finally give Elkeles a go. Leaving Paradise was the obvious choice to begin (the other two were sequels), and I spent a lovely weekend reading both this book and it’s continuation (I’ll be reviewing Return to Paradise next).
The Premise: This story is about two teens whose lives were most changed by an accident that rocked the small town of Paradise. Over a year ago, Maggie Armstrong was hit by a drunk driver and had to go through hospitalization and intensive physical therapy for the past year. She will forever walk with a limp. Caleb Becker was the boy charged with the crime and has spent the past year in juvenile detention. He will forever be associated with crippling Maggie. Now a year later, Caleb is out and the two have to meet again. They see in each other the person who damaged them, but they also see the only person who can understand what they’re going through.
My Thoughts: What a premise! I’m not sure if anything connects two people more closely than a shared tragedy, and this is one that obviously left things in pieces for both Caleb and Maggie. The book is told in alternating chapters from each of their points of view and I felt rather addicted to finding out what each of them thought of their situation and to the ensuing drama when they see each other again.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), they have lives that strangely reflect each other’s. Maggie has an protective mother who anxiously tracks the progress of her daughter, and she’s isolated at school because of her injuries. Once a strong tennis player and peripheral member of the popular set, Maggie is now ignored. She’s even lost her best friend Leah, because Leah is Caleb’s twin sister. Maggie’s father is pretty much absent from the picture after he divorced Maggie’s mom years ago. All Maggie wants to do is go to an exchange program in Spain where no one will treat her as that girl who was hit by a drunk driver.
Caleb’s family on the other hand, especially his mother, don’t want to face the realities of the accident. His mother pretends that they are an ideal family, his father just goes along with the farce, and his sister has turned Goth and walled herself off from the world. Caleb’s friends have changed as well, but in less obvious ways, and Caleb has a big chip on his shoulder because no one really seems to understand his life in the past year was like. He never wants to go back there again, and he’s angry at how he’s treated as a criminal by everyone he knows.
The two of them together? The pages are charged:
“This is awkward,” he says, breaking the long silence. His voice is deeper and darker than I remember.
This is not just seeing him out of my bedroom window.
And it’s dark.
And it’s oh, so different.
Needing to go back to the safety of by bedroom, I try to stand. A hot, shooting pain races down the side of my leg and I wince.
I watch in horror and shock as he steps forward and grabs my elbow.
Oh. My. God. I automatically jerk away from his grip. Memories of being stuck in the hospital bed unable to move crash through my mind as I straighten.
“Don’t touch me,” I say.
He holds his hands up as if I just said “Stick ’em up.”
“You don’t have to be afraid of me, Maggie.”
“Yes… yes I do,” I say, panicking.
I hear him let out a breath, then he steps back. But he doesn’t leave, he just stares at me strangely. “We used to be friends.”
“That was a long time ago,” I say. “Before you hit me.”
This story was so full of emotion, but it’s done with a delicate hand and the overall effect leaves you breathless. I zoomed through this book, experiencing the pain and frustrations of Maggie and Caleb, but also feeling like there was something hopeful for both of them at the end of it all. I wanted the two of them to be whole again and it really felt like the key to that was each other. I wanted them to forgive each other and I really wanted them to be honest about what happened between them that fateful night, but a good book is not predictable. Elkeles had me worrying about the couple and their fledgling feelings for each other, and once the book was done it did not go the way I expected. I think that if I didn’t have the sequel in my possession I would have been very upset. I closed this book and immediately started reading Return to Paradise with barely a pause.
Overall: Loved it. Another one that does that slow build of romantic tension that comes with falling in love well, and it does it in a emotionally satisfying package. I would put this in the ‘Blew me away’ category if it wasn’t for an ending that leaves you yearning for the sequel.