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Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles (*with slight spoilers*)

November 17, 2007

leavingparadise*Just in case. But really, the spoilers are no worse than what’s in the Booklist review you can read at Amazon.com*

Leaving Paradise is one of those books that makes me glad we don’t give grades here, just opinions. Because I’m not sure how I’d grade it. It’s flawed but readable, engaging but exasperating, and left me with very mixed emotions.

Caleb Becker has spent the last year in a juvenile detention facility after he “was convicted of hitting a girl with my car while driving drunk.” Maggie Armstrong has spent the last year trying to recover from the injuries she incurred when Caleb hit her. Both end up working for the same person, Mrs. Reynolds, Maggie doing odd jobs in the hopes of earning enough money to spend a semester abroad, Caleb as part of his community service. Although she would prefer ignoring him, Maggie is still drawn to Caleb, finding him the only one who can understand her isolation.

Elkeles alternates points of view, with Caleb and Maggie taking turns narrating chapters, but Caleb’s voice never rang true. Maggie’s did, but when half the book is told by a character whose chapters kept pulling me out of the story, asking myself what kind of teenage boy talks—to other people, not just internally—like that, well… I’m not exactly sure how Elkeles kept me reading. There were also too many coincidences for my liking. Caleb and Maggie happen to live next door to each other, and his twin sister just happens to have been Maggie’s (pre-accident) best friend. Maggie’s mother works as a waitress in a diner. Mrs. Reynolds is the mother of the diner’s owner, and just happens to have an unfinished gazebo in her yard, and lucky for her, Caleb spent a couple of summers doing construction, and building her gazebo happens to qualify as community service.

Despite all this, Elkeles convincingly conveys Maggie’s turmoil and Caleb’s frustration with peoples’ perception of him. I was emotionally invested in the story and characters, which is why my biggest problem with Leaving Paradise is the ending. If Elkeles hadn’t made me care about Caleb and Maggie, I wouldn’t have cared about what happened to them. But I did, and that’s why I absolutely hated the ending.


Or, to be more precise, I hated some of the events that led to the ending. I think I’d be okay with the way Leaving Paradise ultimately ends if some of those proximate things hadn’t happened and if the big secret hadn’t existed. Because they just made me feel manipulated, that some of the events leading up to the climax were unnecessary and a total cop-out. In other words, what bothers me is not so much the not-happy ending as *how* it comes about. But apparently I’m in the minority here, because reader reviews at Amazon and Barnes & Noble are very positive. This book is a Cybil’s nominee, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing what my fellow panelists have to say about this title.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2007 10:07 am

    I have mixed feelings about this one too–while I was reading it, I was enjoying it, but in the cold light of day, it didn’t ring true…

    Charlotte

  2. Idetrorce permalink
    December 15, 2007 3:07 am

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  3. riley permalink
    January 21, 2008 10:55 pm

    i felt almost exactly the same way. i am a sucker for happy endings because i feel like life doesn’t always end happy so why cant the books i read.

    but i felt like the ending didn’t fit. your right that they got so close then left each other and accepted it.

  4. August 3, 2008 5:30 am

    I received this book to review and gotta say, since I do grades on my site, I don’t exactly know how to go about grading this one. You pretty much speak all my thoughts in this novel with your review, though. I’m gonna have to figure something about. Don’t be shocked if I link here and use this as a basis for my comments🙂

    – Steph

  5. September 5, 2008 3:17 pm

    Finally reviewed this one. Reread your review a zillion times before formulating my own, and the more I read it, the more I agree with it. Once again: Nicely put, Trisha.

  6. Danielle permalink
    November 10, 2008 9:24 am

    i really loved this book! it was so REMARKABLE. How i actually got to reading this book is i took it fom my sister, which is a freshman now in college. I just really LOVE this book its about Love and HURT this is a book that i would like to read again. I loved it so much that i wrote a report on it for english, and got a really good grade. Great Job on this book.

  7. Tony permalink
    January 9, 2009 3:58 am

    I am currently reading this book with my males in a juvenile jail. They love this book and so do I. Caleb’s character is pretty much right on target with the way my boys think and act. The profanity used in this book was a major help in getting them “hooked”.

  8. Dena permalink
    February 12, 2009 2:26 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this. I was truly disappointed with the book since I just finished “Perfect Chemistry” by the same author. I had SUCH high expectations on this book, since “Perfect Chemistry” was amazing.
    I felt as if she kind of rushed the “love” on the two characters, and that it wasn’t a true teen romance novel. It revolved on the characters’ effects on the accidents WAY too much. Such as Maggie constantly complaining and Caleb talking about jail the entire time. There was no high climax and it just left to a completely deflated and disappointing ending. D:
    It was also extremely slow, because I was waiting for something to happen the entire time. It took over 150 pages for the two finally make a real connection, that’s more than half the book. Everything before that was a giant fluff of unnecessary information.
    Okay, I’m done ranting lol.😄 sorry, I was just…. beyond disappointed haha

  9. Kelsey permalink
    March 20, 2009 4:36 am

    ok i know the ending im sure irritated everyone but Simone Elkeles just visited our school yesterday, shes a pretty awesome lady btw, and said that she is writing a sequal to the book….and she said all questions will be answered and she hinted that they are likely to end up together..romantically that is….just thought id let u know
    Peace

  10. sid permalink
    July 25, 2010 9:58 am

    iknw its a bit late but im confused with this book… i agree i have mixed feelings i love it then when i see the ending i feel so betrayed how can they go through so much and just part?…

  11. anjelica permalink
    August 18, 2010 3:43 am

    I just finished reading this book! I really enjoyed it, but of course, I didn’t like the ending. It was not at all satisfying.😦 My favortie character was Mrs. Reynolds, she was so awesome and my throat even hurt a little in that one part…you know haha, trying not to ruin it.

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