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.

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Leaving Paradise
Simone Elkeles

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.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Leaving Paradise here

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:

“I’ve been face to face with him many times, but now everything has changed. He doesn’t even look like himself, except for his straight nose and confident stance that has been, and I suppose always will be, Caleb Becker.
“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.
We’re alone.
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.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – she loved it too
Stacy’s Place on Earth – 5 out of 5 stars
Monkey Bear reviews – recommended
See Michelle Read – positive review