Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

5 Stars. (Young Adult)

Leaving Paradise was a really great read. It was emotional, provoking and had a lot of angst. Ultimately it’s the story of two people who are trying to make the best of a very hard situation and survive the opinions, assumptions and expectations of others. Maggie and Caleb are two very similar people. They each try to do right by the people they love although Caleb sets himself up for some very difficult situations as a result of what is ultimately his extreme selflessness. He is a very strong guy. I admired his sincerity, his loyalty and his strength. He kept his mouth shut when so many others would have taken action against the kinds of prejudice he faced when he came back to his hometown of Paradise after having been convicted of a hit and run a year prior. Maggie is his victim. She acts like one a lot of the time and it bothered me a bit how willing she was to hold a grudge and never allow herself to see that Caleb was as effected and hurt by the accident as she was. Maggie insists a few times that she is the only one affected and there were a few moments when I wanted her to be so much stronger. I could definitely understand her fears and insecurities and doubts about herself post-accident, but I can’t say I fully sympathized with her. Caleb on the other hand stole my sympathies. He was understandably upset and sorry about what happened to Maggie, they were friends once and Maggie had always loved him, but he wasn’t willing to crucify himself for Maggie’s sake, which I must say I wholeheartedly appreciated.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in this book and I can’t say much more about the characters and their journey without going into spoilerish plot detail so I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say, Maggie and Caleb try to heal themselves. They look to each other when everyone around them is oblivious or unwilling to see the truth that has been affecting both their lives since the accident. They are each struggling to maintain their own dignity and place in their small town, as well as their own identities. It isn’t an easy journey but I loved how Elkeles made it one that both victims went through together.
The passion and angst between these two characters was intense and very touching. There were moments that made me smile and others that made me cringe in frustration. But overall this was a really great read that made me think about the entire situation and how I might react or endure if I was faced with some of the things Maggie and Caleb were faced with.
The ending is heartbreaking but also satisfying. It suits the pace of the narrative. I could definitely understand a reader’s frustration though if they had read this book when it first came out. It was published in 2007 and the next installment wasn’t released until 2010. That is a loonnggg time to wait to see how these two end up.

I have to say that part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was Caleb's character. He is so endearing even though you might figure you should hate him because of the crime he was convicted for. Instead you get a glimpse into Caleb's world through his own eyes and can't believe his strength and honesty given the family he is dealing with.

I can't wait to read the next one - Return to Paradise . Elkeles has proven to be a very good voice in YA contemporary literature. She writes with honesty and sincerity and I appreciate that she doesn't gloss over the little details that make character believable and relateable.

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