Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Summary: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Have you ever read a book and then forgotten everything you read? Do you ever wish you could just read a quick summary to refresh your memory instead of having to reread the entire book? I have, especially when a book is part of a series and I just want to get the highlights of the previous books so I know what's going on when I read the latest installment. I enjoy rereading, but sometimes I just feel so guilty spending time on a book I've already read when all the books on my TBR pile glare at me for neglecting them. These posts are an attempt to help forgetful readers like myself.

These posts are also where those of us who have read the book can hold a discussion about any events in the book. These discussions will contain spoilers. 

The following post is a summary of the book. If you have not read the book, then go to my Leaving Paradise review instead. 

This post does contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the book, then don't read the rest of this post! 

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

So you want to find out what happens in Leaving Paradise? Click here if you want to read my spoiler free review, or click the following link for the full summary:

Click me to read spoilers

Told in alternating first person narration, Leaving Paradise opens with Caleb as he is waiting to see if he will be allowed early release from juvenile detention. He is released. Caleb was placed there as punishment for driving drunk, hitting a girl with his car, and then fleeing the scene of the accident. He has served a year. His narration here shows little remorse for his action and a desire to put it in the past and move on with his life. When he returns, his family is stiff and he observes that they are more messed up than he is. His father is passive and weak, his mother is throwing herself into a “perfect family” role by throwing a party with her society friends, and his sister has gone Goth. He also remarks that Maggie, the girl he hit, is his next door neighbor.

Maggie is the second narrator and the girl Caleb injured. She is attending physical therapy for her injured leg but it is painful and slow going. She hopes to attend a study abroad program in Spain so she will not have to face Caleb when he is released. She is also running from her life, which has deteriorated after the accident. Her best friend was Caleb’s sister and the two have not spoken since the accident. Maggie’s mother (divorced, works in a diner) attempts to set up a “play date” for Maggie with her former friends when they come into the diner. Maggie is mortified and the girls awkwardly agree to attend a party together. Maggie is also informed that Caleb will be returning earlier than expected.

Caleb leaves his mother’s party and goes for a walk. He encounters Maggie and attempts to help her up when she stumbles because of her leg. She recoils and leaves. Maggie is deeply upset by the encounter. Many people in town are cold toward Caleb and make his adjustment difficult. His friends welcome him back though and his old coach encourages him to rejoin the wrestling team. He is unsure where he stands with his girlfriend Kendra after a year apart.

Maggie receives word from the exchange program that she is still welcome to attend, but her scholarship has been revoked. The scholarship was for tennis athletics, and since her leg is injured she no longer plays. The cost of schooling is too much money for Maggie’s mother to afford. Depressed, Maggie eats pie at the diner where she meets her mother’s boss’s mother, Mrs. Reynolds. She has a no nonsense attitude about Maggie’s limp and offers her a job as a companion in exchange for the needed tuition money. Maggie accepts.

Maggie remembers that she used to have a huge crush on Caleb all the way up until the accident. It is strange for her to see him now with all of her mixed emotions for him. Mrs. Reynolds has Maggie plant tulip bulbs in her backyard. The activity is difficult for Maggie who is afraid of spiders and has difficulty bending with her leg. Mrs. Reynolds accepts no excuses and pushes Maggie to face the things that make her uncomfortable. Maggie reluctantly meets the challenges.

Caleb’s family attends a fair, but he decides to stay at home. Kendra, his ex girlfriend shows up at his house and they hook up. He notes to himself that she has changed her hair and her lip gloss flavor and he does not like the changes. She asks him to keep their relationship a secret because her father is running for reelection and Caleb is an ex-con. He agrees, though he is unhappy and shamed.

Maggie does attend the fair, where her mother dances with her boss and Maggie realizes they like each other. Caleb decides to go to the fair where he meets his family. Awkwardness ensues between himself, his family, and his family’s friends. He is excused and meets up with his friends. One friend, Drew, makes crass comments about Maggie that anger Caleb. Maggie overhears the comments. Caleb threatens Drew, but Maggie does not see this.

Kendra and Caleb hook up in Kendra’s room while her parents are out. She expresses jealousy over Caleb talking with other girls. Her parents come home and she makes Caleb leave through her window. He is frustrated and shamed with this deception.

Maggie helps Mrs. Reynolds clean her attic out. Caleb arrives to help Mrs. Reynolds build her gazebo as part of his mandated community service. Maggie is upset and explains their connection to Mrs. Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds tells Maggie that she should face her fear, but she will tell Caleb to leave if Maggie insists. She does insist, but eventually relents under the condition that Caleb ignores her.

Maggie and Caleb have an angry and avoidant conversation and end up at the bus stop together. Vic, an old wrestling rival and a bad seed begins harassing Caleb. Vic and his friends surround Caleb and begin making fun of Maggie. Caleb protects Maggie and gets beat up in the process. Maggie calls the police to help protect Caleb. The police arrive and Maggie defends Caleb. Vic and his friends leave. Maggie and Caleb board the bus and Maggie sits next to Caleb.

Caleb and Maggie accidentally lock themselves in Mrs. Reynolds’ attic and must wait until she wakes up to be let out again. They talk about what it means to be free and how they have each been in their own type of prison and are both looking for escape.

Caleb goes out with his friends. They bring beer and one of their mothers catches them. She blames Caleb for his bad influence, even though he did not bring the beer and was not going to drink any. He leaves. Caleb’s best friend Brian tells Caleb he is dating Kendra and the two began hooking up when Caleb was still dating Kendra before the accident. Caleb remembers that the night of the accident, Maggie warned him that Kendra was cheating on him but he didn’t believe her. Caleb is angry with Brian, but he does not tell him Kendra has been hooking up with Caleb since he was released.

Maggie tells her mother she should date her boss. Her mother is excited and decides to invite him over for dinner. Maggie remembers her father and how she began playing tennis to get her father’s attention and approval. She is scared she will never get this now that she is injured and can no longer play. She calls her father but he is distant and brushes her off.

Kendra comes over to hook up with Caleb again. He turns her away, but she hints that she knows something he would not want her to share. He hooks up with her. Maggie calls Caleb and asks to meet with him. They meet and talk and kiss. Caleb asks to see Maggie’s scars and she becomes upset. She refuses. Maggie and Caleb both think on how they are falling in love. They spend more time together.

Caleb meets his friends for Sunday football, but Kendra and her friends crash. She flaunts her relationship with Brian in front of Caleb, but then tries to hook up with Caleb in the bathroom. She hints again at what she knows. Drew walks in on them, but says he won’t tell Brian.

Caleb and Maggie hang out together and Caleb pushes her to play tennis. She is angry, but also secretly happy to play again. They engage in a long make out session. Caleb confronts his sister Leah about her Goth behavior and being so withdrawn. She blows up on him and tells him she feels so guilty for hitting Maggie. The reader learns that Caleb never hit Maggie, Leah did. She tried to avoid hitting a squirrel and accidentally hit Maggie instead. Panicked, she returned to the party and told her brother who took the blame. Caleb wants Leah to come clean, but she says she can’t.

Mrs. Reynolds takes Maggie dress shopping. Maggie must drive and face another one of her fears. They buy dresses and stop to pick up a pie from the diner. When they arrive back at Mrs. Reynolds’ house, Caleb is waiting there with the finished gazebo and a romantic dinner. The three eat dinner together. Mrs. Reynolds says she is going to bed and expresses her enjoyment over the night. Caleb and Maggie share time together. Caleb asks Maggie to show him her scars again, and again she refuses. Caleb says that they cannot be together if she can’t trust him with this and they break up. Maggie immediately regrets this.

Maggie goes to see Mrs. Reynolds the next day to talk about Caleb, but she is told Mrs. Reynolds died in her sleep the night before. She is devastated and goes to school to tell Caleb. She sees Caleb and Kendra. Kendra jealously confronted Caleb about his feelings for Maggie, threatening him with the secret she knows (which we now know is presumably the fact that Leah was driving). Caleb, to protect his sister, says he sees nothing in Maggie. Maggie hears this and runs away in tears.

There is a school assembly and as the students are leaving, Maggie stumbles and her leg is crushed in the press of students. The crowd of students begins making fun of her, and Caleb comes to her rescue. Drew questions why he would help “the bitch who put him in jail” and Caleb punches Drew. Caleb is sent to the principal’s office and Maggie is sent to the nurse.

Maggie overhears Kendra making fun of her and attacking her cousin. Emboldened by Mrs. Reynolds, Maggie stands up to Kendra. The girls get into a verbal fight and are sent to the principal’s office. Maggie decides to let go of all of her fears and anger about Caleb, the accident, and Caleb and Kendra. Her experiences have made her stronger and she is ready to let go and move on.

Caleb continues to take the blame for his sister and gets in trouble with his probation officer. He is also informed that Maggie filed a complaint for sexual harassment over their relationship. Caleb believes Maggie was using him all along so she could file the complaint. He is deeply upset. He finds out his mother has been taking pills and is very messed up. She recoils from him when he attempts to comfort her. He confronts his family on their weaknesses and tells them he is leaving. He goes to see Mrs. Reynolds and finds out she has died.

Caleb and Maggie meet. He is angry with her and kisses her angrily to scare her and “give her what she wants.” She is confused. When Maggie goes home there are officers there to follow up on her report. She knows nothing of this report and realizes Kendra filed a false report of sexual harassment against Caleb, pretending to be Maggie. Maggie now understands Caleb’s anger. She leaves to find Caleb.

Maggie finds Caleb preparing to leave. He is going to Chicago to start over. Maggie does not want him to leave and she shows him her scars. She does not tell him she remembers it was Leah who was driving the car, hoping he will tell her. He does not, and she understands he feels he must protect his sister but she is still saddened that he does not tell her. They part, knowing they love each other but need to move on.

When Maggie arrives home, Leah is waiting for her. Leah tells Maggie it was her driving and Maggie says she knows. Maggie tells Leah she forgives her.

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