Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Return to Paradise
Simone Elkeles

This is the continuation of the story that began with Leaving Paradise

(my review for that is here:

Again, this was a signed ARC copy that I picked up at BEA.

The Premise: Months have passed since the events in Leaving Paradise, and Caleb Becker, the misunderstood “bad boy” of Paradise finds his path unexpectedly crossing Maggie Armstrong’s once again. This time the two teens whose lives were so changed by the drunk driving accident that sent Caleb to juvenile detention and Maggie to the hospital, find themselves together in Re-START, a program for teens affected by teen reckless driving. Caleb needs to do this program to stay out of the latest trouble he’s found himself in, and Maggie is using Re-START as a thesis paper for a scholarship to Spain. Neither can leave and have to endure each other’s company and the awkwardness of rehashing the accident to an audience of other teens.

******Spoiler for the end of LEAVING PARADISE, but it’s the spoiler on the back of the blurb for RETURN TO PARADISE..  *****

My Thoughts: At the end of Leaving Paradise, things were left up in the air between Caleb and Maggie. The two had acknowledged the feelings that they had for each other, but Caleb’s other issues with Paradise overwhelm the positive effect of their relationship. Caleb sees no other choice but to leave, and we’re left with an unresolved, bittersweet goodbye.

Maggie understood that Caleb wasn’t ready to completely trust her in the previous book, but when he returns in this one, enough time has passed (eight months) for Maggie to feel abandoned. There may be a physical attraction between the two, but their once sweet relationship is now a volatile minefield. Hurt feelings and misunderstandings abound. At first this works for the story. Maggie and Caleb needed to talk to each other about the accident that lies between them and about why Caleb left, and until they do, things would not be right between them. Caleb and Maggie dance awkwardly around each other as they get used to Re-START and the other teens in the program. Maggie is hurt that Caleb never contacted her when he was gone or that he won’t admit the truth about who really hit her. Caleb doesn’t know Maggie knows his secret and is frustrated that he’s the one blamed, that she is avoiding him, and that she may like another boy.

Unfortunately, these initial problems got even messier. The barriers and misunderstandings between Caleb and Maggie needlessly multiply, and somewhere along the way, I felt like I couldn’t recognize the couple that I met in Leaving Paradise. They were arguing, then making up, then arguing with dizzying regularity. They did things that felt completely out of character. I often found myself asking, “OK, why are they mad at each other now?” because I couldn’t keep track. I was even confused when they weren’t mad at each other. At one point Caleb announces some deliberate mistruths about Maggie. Later that night he makes some pretty stupid decisions, gets into more trouble that makes him look like a HUGE jerk.  Any girl would be appalled to find him in the state he was in, but Maggie helps him get out of that situation by pretending to be his girlfriend. Do they ever talk about his earlier betrayal? No, because they’ve moved on to the next wrong. It was so frustrating. Actually, it was doubly frustrating – first that that these two would act this way at all, and then rather than resolution, there’s waffling.  When I thought that these two were going to sit down and hash out their problems, the plot veered sharply away. I wondered why these two were talking in circles and when the crazy train would stop.

Return to Paradise has the same sort of addictive style as Leaving Paradise, and yes, Maggie and Caleb have an electric pull on me when they’re together on the page, but this book had too much see-sawing filler and not enough substance. Frankly, Return to Paradise was so disappointing in comparison to Leaving Paradise that I am baffled by it! I wonder if these uncorrected proofs from BEA are far from finished work. I did notice discrepancies in the plot time line issues. Could these be copies sent out before some massive editing and corrections were made? Sadly, I can only review the book I was given, not the book I wished it was.

Overall: I think that it would be difficult to read Leaving Paradise (which I loved), and not want to read Return to Paradise. Unfortunately, the sequel does not live up to it’s predecessor, and a lovely teenage romance becomes overly complicated. Liberal use of the Big Mis mixed with confusing plotting made this a book that felt unpolished, and I am actually hoping that my uncorrected proof is far from the final product.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – “A very big disappointment” I think she makes an excellent point about Caleb being mean here which he wasn’t in Leaving Paradise.

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