Friday, September 5, 2008

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. 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.

Grade: Uhhhhhh...................crap, must I really grade this? I suppose so. Scroll down for the grade, but try to read the explanation beforehand.

Thank you to BF (an actual person, not "boyfriend") for this book!

I could not be more disoriented about this novel if I were drunk. Here I am rubbing my temples, for I do not know how in the world to evaluate this. *breathe in... breathe out...* I’ll do my best. It just might not suffice, is all I’m saying.

Given my status as a quasi-human of the double-X-chromosome variety, I have limited knowledge of how the pen15-porters think. But—and this is a huge-ass but—I’ve been reading some male-POV novels as of late, enough to think I’ve gained a somewhat sturdy frame of reference of what’s acceptable and what’s not in their voices (I think). Caleb’s voice in the alternating chapters lands square into the latter category. It’s indiscernible—I still can’t for the life of me figure out if he’s a girl, a boy, or an android. (Though I’ll take Maggie’s word for it, he’s a guy.) Its expression either misses the contrasting point altogether, or lands square in the middle of the gender divide, where, again, it’s hard to say which of the sexes we’re talking about.

(Once more, with feeling: Steph’s only experienced being a girl. (But then, so too has Ms Elkeles.) Take all she says about the boy side of the equation with a grain of salt.)

Trisha of The YA YA YAs said she thinks the novel is based too much on coincidences. If you’re not familiar with the plot, here’s an extended version, branching off the summary: Caleb and Maggie end up working for the same woman, Maggie’s mother’s boss’s (yay, genitive case wave!) mother. It’s because of the interlacing of fates that it all Happens.

Anyway, I thought I nitpicked the most in the area of coincidences, but I really didn’t even notice it until I read her review. Not the most pressing thing, anyhow, but something to keep in mind if you’re the type who hates coincidences.

Moving on to the ending (of the novel, not of the review): It suc— wait, no, can’t use that word. It ree—wait, no, can’t use that one either. It...uhh... Let’s just say it left much to be desired. Let’s say more: I hated it. Are any of you familiar with unskilled manipulation of emotions? One that sets up to do mad amounts of good and then just flakes on you at the very end, making the connection between the story up to that point and the story after that point a little...indiscernible (here we go with that word again)? I won’t spoil it but—argh, headache coming on again.

All said and done, though, it was a nice romantic getup (chorus: Until the ending/Oh oh, until it all went baaaad). Kind of reminiscent of a romantic comedy (sans the laughs) movie, especially in the climax bit where we get to see a little of a will-they-or-won’t-they plot device. As said on page 198: “Maggie is frustrating, she’s confused, she’s angry...and she hums these ridiculous tunes when she’s working at Mrs. Reynolds’ house.” Can’t you just picture him, at a tension-filled part of the movie, listing all the reasons to forget her and move on, a terse expression on his face; his heart getting caught in his chest, reverberating every painful second that goes by; and the loss of all hope... Until he remembers that one silly, insignificant bit about her that sends shock waves of longing to his chest and makes him realize he just can’t do without her?

Trisha—quoting you again, Trisha!—said it best in her review:

Leaving Paradise is one of those books that makes me glad we don’t give grades here, just opinions. Because I’m not sure how I’d grade it. It’s flawed but readable, engaging but exasperating, and left me with very mixed emotions.

Very true. So this is why this is a nice C+—a nice one. I’ll probably remember this one a year and a million other books and reviews down the road. Recommended only as a library loan. (Or maybe—maybe, maybe, MAYBE—a third-string purchase option, if you must.)


Amee said...

Loved it. Your review that is. Never read the book and have no immediate plans to. I'd give it a shot though if it fell into my hands somehow (meaning it didn't replace any money that was in my hands to get there). Your frustration has made me curious enough to read it then. ;)

Alea said...

Hmm. Never heard of this one. The cover is bizarre and cheesy. It sounds depressing, but also slightly interesting at the same time. Not sure if our paths will ever cross but I agree with Ambeen, if a fairy put it under my pillow I wouldn't not take a peek at it.

YA Book Realm said...

I've been wanting to read this book for quite awhile now! I always mean to write it down so I can look it up in the library. But never got around to it. Hmmm...I'll admit I want to read the book, the plot sounds interesting and I'm kinda curious as what "really happened that night" I mean I would think he's drunk and hit her because he was drunk... So yeah. And it got a nice C+ so that's pretty good.

Btw excellent review. I loved this line, especially the last part (reminded me of Dragon Ball):

It’s indiscernible—I still can’t for the life of me figure out if he’s a girl, a boy, or an android.

Well put!

Anonymous said...

Finally! ;)

You know, I completely agree that this is a book I'll remember when I've forgotten about other books I've reviewed, but that's mostly because of the ending. If it didn't bother me so much, the book would probably fall into the forgettable realm.

The ending just totally colored my view of the rest of the book. I still would have been bothered by Caleb's voice and the coincidences, but I think I would have been more forgiving of them. But the ending + those two things = massive frustration and annoyance on my part, and also a lot of wonder at how Elkeles still made the story work for so long.


Gabrielle said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who did not like this book. I hated the ending, though I did like that surprising plot twist towards the end about Caleb. I wish it had been more of a standard rom-com, because it could have succeeded that way.

Awesome review, Steph.

Anonymous said...

um ok???

Anonymous said...

i really liked the book it was really good, things showed up that i never expected, but there was some downs about it, like the ending i hated the ending but the rest was pretty good.(:

Anonymous said...


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Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph