Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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Description for Leaving Paradise:
My rating: 3 out of 5 starsNothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.
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.
Because I read the two books back-to-back and because my feelings about Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise are pretty much the same (and because I'm lazy), I'm just going to review both of them in one post. I loved Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry series, so I was really excited to read these two books. And even though I didn't like Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise quite as much as the Perfect Chemistry series because of some smaller issues with the plot and characters, I did really enjoy this series!
Leaving Paradise starts out with an intriguing set-up, and I really liked the plot. Both Caleb and Maggie got on my nerves in the beginning, but once you find out the truth about what happened, their thoughts are a lot more justified, and both of their situations are fascinating to think about. I do think that their relationship developed a little too fast in the beginning - they seemed to kind of just randomly start liking each other - but the development of their relationship later on is realistic and fun to read about. There are parts of their relationship that were too cheesy for me, but that was to be expected. All of this pretty much goes for Return to Paradise as well: the plots of the two novels are very similar and the conflicts remain the same, making the two books together a little drawn out.
The secondary characters are not nearly as good as our narrators. Throughout both novels, there are hints at the stories of Caleb and Maggie's friends and families, but none of them are explored in any depth. This makes all of the secondary characters flat personifications of just one characteristic each. I wish we had gotten some more insight into both Caleb and Maggie's relationships with other people, but the novels solely focus on their relationship with each other, neglecting to develop any depth for the secondary characters. Especially Leah's character, I think, should have definitely been explored more, because that would have made the plot a lot more believable.
I would also like to point out that, just like in the Perfect Chemistry books, logic does not seem to be the strong suit of Simone Elkeles's writing.There's various examples, and one that bothered me the most is that Maggie is supposed to go to Spain for a semester in high school, but once she opts out of that, she goes abroad for her freshman year of college instead, with the same program. These are two completely separate things, so having it be the same program just doesn't make sense. (Not to mention that going abroad for all of your freshman year of college isn't really a thing that happens, either.) While I'm no expert on the American justice system, Simone Elkeles seems to have taken some creative liberty with that as well: I find it highly unlikely that Caleb's transition counselor from juvie can just decide that, instead of having to go to jail, Caleb can just participate in this random summer trip with him. (The whole idea of the trip seemed very arbitrary to me.) I know that some people can just see past things like that, but it bothers me when authors just manipulate the way life works and sacrifice logic to justify their plots.
I know my review sounds really negative, but I didn't not like these books. There were various issues I had with the novels, but overall, they're still enjoyable reads. If you're looking for depth, look elsewhere, but I can definitely recommend Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise if you're looking for some fun, quick reads with some cute romance!