Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

One night. One big mistake. No one is the same again. Especially not Caleb and Maggie. He spent the last year in juvie for a drunken hit and run, while Maggie, the girl he ran over, was in rehab trying to regain strength in her shattered leg. Complicating matters is that they not only go to the same high school, but are neighbors as well. It has been more than difficult for Maggie living next door to Caleb’s family, but when he’s released early from jail she’s thrown into emotional overload.

The story is told from the two main protagonists’ perspectives. Caleb comes off as a bit unremorseful making him rather unlikable. Maggie is drowning in a sea of self-pity. Caleb tries to go back to life as it was before, while Maggie is ultra-aware that things will never be as they once were.

There are lots of positive things that this book has going for it, strong inter-generational relationships, great themes of healing, forgiveness, and redemption, an ending that isn’t too pat even if it is a bit quick, and a plot twist that many readers will predict incorrectly (or at least I thought it was implicating someone and of course I totally had the person wrong). But the dialogue is a bit clunky, perhaps a bit forced at times. There are some inconsistencies where Caleb will complain no one wants to talk about his time in jail, but then he’ll shut down anyone who tries to bring it up. Or where Maggie will say how self-absorbed Caleb was before he went to jail and then later reminisce about the times he took care of her in various circumstances. Characters are one dimensional with Caleb’s pill-popping image obsessed mother being one of the most flimsy. And a strange subplot where Caleb isn’t allowed to have contact with his victim yet is somehow allowed to attend the same high-school.

However, it is seriously melodramatic and has an interesting premise so I think the teen appeal is pretty high.

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