Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Forget Me Not is a meme created by Steph from The Thoughts of a Book Junky where slightly older but still great books are shared. This Tuesday, I am going to feature an older book that I enjoyed: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles.

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Release Date: April 1, 2007
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 303
Received: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 
Goodreads Page


A year ago Maggie was hit by a drunk driver and Caleb, the driver and Maggie’s former crush, was sent to a juvenile prison facility to pay for his crime. Maggie had hoped to be out of the country on scholarship before Caleb came home, but his early release throws them back into each other’s lives. Caleb struggles to readjust to a life filled with stigma and blame, while Maggie deals with her fears of inadequacy now that the accident has left her with a limp that has ruined her path as a tennis player. While initially trying to avoid one another, Caleb and Maggie find themselves increasingly drawn together as they open old wounds and attempt to heal.


This is one of those books that while I was reading it I really loved it, but then after it settled with me I realized I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did. Ultimately, I did still really enjoy this book, but the “OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK” feeling did fade the more I thought about what I had read.

There are three main characters in the story: Maggie, Caleb, and Mrs. Reynolds. Maggie and Caleb both narrate the story (alternating chapters) and I found them both likable and sympathetic. Mrs. Reynolds is one of those too-good-to-be-true fictional characters that make me feel so good I don’t care if they’re just a little *too* perfect or convenient. Maggie and Caleb's interactions with Mrs. Reynolds are predictable (and reminded me of a bunch of other books/movies) but enjoyable to read about nonetheless.

There really are two parts to this story, the first being the romantic relationship between Caleb and Maggie and the second being how they each adjusted to the aftermath of the accident. The romantic storyline is sweet and should appeal to readers looking for one of those “perfect boy” love stories. I certainly found myself melting for Caleb.

Even though we’re shown Maggie and Caleb’s perspectives, they both sounded like Maggie’s perspective (where the relationship is concerned). What I mean by that is that Caleb’s feelings and actions about their relationship felt very much like what Maggie would wish them to be. If I were Maggie and I were to dream up the best possible Caleb actions, they would be pretty much what happened.  It didn’t seem entirely realistic, but it was satisfying like a daydream where you can make everything happen exactly as you wish they would happen (except for the whole “Show me your scars” thing, which I thought was kind of strange).

The second part is how each character dealt with the aftermath of the accident. This part had a lot of depth and emotion. If the romance is the fluff of day dreams, this part is a raw nightmare. Some parts seemed unbelievably harsh, like how the school responded to Maggie. I don’t really understand why the students would turn away from her and make fun of her for limping, especially since she had been popular. Wouldn’t people rally around her as an innocent victim? Wouldn’t they support her? Instead they shun her and mock her, which I found a little confusing.

Other parts were completely believable, particularly the way Caleb’s family reacted. This part was harsh and cruel, but also very realistic. His parents’ reactions were terrible and made me really feel for Caleb. I despised his ex-girlfriend and the callous way she treated him. I am glad Simone Elkeles didn’t shy away from these nastier sides of humanity. She could have taken the easy way out by having his parents shun him on moral grounds (driving drunk). Instead she confronted the issue by showing his parents disintegrate over petty but very realistic fears of appearances and simply not knowing how to deal with their child driving drunk and the ramifications of that act. I hated his parents for the way they behaved, but I also understood and pitied them.

There is a twist toward the end that makes Caleb much easier to like, but I think cheapened the story a little. On one hand I appreciate that it is there because it improves Caleb, but on the other I wish she hadn’t taken what seems to me to be an easy out. The open ending allows for a sequel (Return to Paradise) but the book does stand well on its own and doesn’t really require a sequel. Even with my complaints, I am happy I read this one and I do recommend it. 
 Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

You may want to consider Leaving Paradise  if you are participating in: 


  1. I've only read Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, but this sounds interesting as well. I know what you mean by liking a book less after you've read it and processed. However, the storyline of this sounds different and I think I might read it, despite the unrealistic parts. Great review! :)

  2. I have this in my reading stack. I feel like I have been putting it off forever. Good to hear it is an enjoyable read. Thanks for the review :)

  3. I've yet to read a Simon Elkeles books and I think I'm missing out! I've definitely read a book before where I finished, swore I was in love with it, then went to write the review and realized maybe I didn't like it as much as I originally thought. Despite that fact, this does sound like an interesting read, thanks so much for your honest take on it!

  4. I like the sound of this one. I loved Perfect Chemistry and I've been meaning to read more by Simone Elkeles. Thanks for the great review! :)

  5. I liked this one. I liked it better than Perfect Chemistry. I think mainly because I liked the idea of the story. The sequel to this one though, I didn't like at all.

  6. I've actually never read anything of Elkeles' though I've seen tons of positive reviews for Perfect Chemistry. Perhaps I'll start with Leaving Paradise then since I like the premise of this one.

  7. Wow, I know exactly what you mean when you say that you loved the book while reading it but then after you finish, looking at the book as a whole, you realize you didn't like it as much as you thought.
    I've never read a Simone Elkeles book before but I think i'd like to try this one sometime.

  8. Andrea, I thought it was an overall enjoyable book, so I hope you like it! I’m on the fence about Perfect Chemistry.

    Nic, I had put it off for so long but finally my book club chose it and I figured it was about time I read something by such a highly regarded author.

    Jenny, That’s how I felt! Good to hear others experience “the lag” I try to give myself a little time between reading the book and writing the review to account for this.

    Leanna, You’re welcome! I hope you like this. I’ve seen mixed reviews with some people loving it more than PC and others liking it less.

    Peep, Oh, I’ve heard that about the sequel. I liked the way this ended, even if it was open. I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel. It seems like it would be unnaturally dragging things out.

    A Canadian Girl, Hope you like it! I’m still not completely sold on the premise of Perfect Chemistry, even with the rave reviews.

    Aylee, Yep, sometimes I get so swept up in a book and then only afterwards start to see the things I didn’t love.


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