Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free . . . if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers. Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as “criminal” and “freak.” Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other.
Obviously, I’m a stupid person, because I bought this book more than a year ago, and it sat at the bottom of a pile in my room all this time!
I started off on the wrong foot with Leaving Paradise, because an inconsiderate reviewer wrote out the entire plot – all the important twists and turns – in great detail in a review without spoiler tags! There’re some books you don’t want to be spoiled for, and this is one of them.
I love some angst in my books, and this one has it in spades. Author Simone Elkeles’ speciality is with the star-crossed lovers theme, and it’s why I went crazy and read five of her books in a row, in just over a week. With this one, who can resist the drama of a boy convicted of maiming a girl with his car, who returns from prison and falls in love with her?
YA fiction is chock-full of ‘bad boys’ who seem phony. It isn’t “so hot” when your boyfriend punches people for no reason. As with the Fuentes boys in the Perfect Chemistry series, Caleb is a bad boy because of circumstances, and he tries to do the right thing beyond that. He’s not written as violent just to look cool, and he’s an appealing romantic lead because beneath it all he plans to do better things and be a better person.
There’re moments in this book where what has happened to Maggie will break your heart. The cruelty of some of the students is realistic but horrible, and seeing what looks like Caleb happily slotting back into his life while hers seems like it’s over will make you as furious as she is.
There is a sequel to this book, which I would also recommend, but they MUST be read in order.