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.
Caleb wishes that his parents would stop pretending that everything is fine. He just got out of juvenile hall, for Pete’s sake – everything is not fine. So when Caleb’s mom throws a little ‘welcome home’ party for Caleb and invites all her friends rather than his, he almost wishes he was back behind bars. On top of that, he’s having trouble getting back into school, his friends are treating him differently and his girlfriend wants to pick things up from where they left off, but she’s seeing someone new now. Just when Caleb thinks his life couldn’t possibly suck any more, he runs into Maggie.
The girl he hit with his car.
His sister’s ex-best friend.
When he looks into her eyes, he’s confronted with a whole bunch of emotional baggage that he would rather not think about. He wants to apologize for ruining her life, but what would be the point? There is nothing he could say that could possibly fix what he did to her. He knows he should turn and walk away – after all, his probation forbids him from speaking to or contacting her – but he just can’t seem to get his legs to move.
When Maggie sees Caleb standing there only a few feet away from her, it hurts. It hurts more than she thought it would. He did this to her. Before the accident, she was an athlete. A good one, at that. Now she can barely walk. Her athletic scholarship has been revoked and she’s got no chance of getting out of this place. She turns to walk, to get as far away from him as possible, but she stumbles. He reaches for her, catches her. She recoils, of course, but it’s in this moment that both Maggie and Caleb’s lives are forever changed.
As always, Simone Elkeles does not disappoint. Leaving Paradise is raw, emotional, and anything but heart-warming, but it’s one of those ‘must read’ kind of novels. There are many things I love about Simone Elkeles: her writing style is free-flowing and effortless; her descriptions are bright and colorful and tantalize the imagination; but most of all, her characters are enigmatic and alive. I could be Maggie. You could be Caleb. Elkeles creates characters that are flawed and mirror real life, actual people. And that, dear yaReaders, is the thing that sets Simone Elkeles aside from many Young Adult authors today.
Leaving Paradise is so believable it reads like a memoir, rather than popular teen fiction.
Simone Elkeles – I heart you!
Teaser Quote: Caleb crouches down, his face right in front of mine.
“You are not a loser. Hell, Maggie, you always knew what you wanted and went for it.”
I tell him the honest truth. “Not anymore. When you hit me, a part of me died.”