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 cancelled.
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.
I found Leaving Paradise to be very surprising. I picked it up after reading Perfect Chemistry and was expecting another teen romance book. But this was so much more, and not really heavy on the romance either. I wasn't disappointed though. I loved reading the often painful journeys of both Caleb and Maggie as they healed from their terrible experiences and were able to come to terms with the people that they had become.
Maggie has spent a year in physical therapy after the accident and her leg is scarred and she walks with a bit of a limp. She's finding it hard to adjust after her study abroad programme pans out as she's no longer a member of the tennis team. In fact, she doesn't do a lot of the things she used to do. Drive. Or spend any time with her friends. She doesn't like asking for help or seeing people feel sorry for her. She doesn't like people seeing her scars and when Caleb comes back from juvie, she's really scared. Until she sees that Caleb carries the scars of that day along with him, only his scars aren't as physical as hers. When Maggie goes to work as a companion for an old lady, she starts to come to terms with the person she has become and move on from her anger and resentment to what has been done to her.
At the same time, Caleb arrives back into town really angry. Angry at the way he's being treated differently from his old friends and his parents. His whole life has changed and on top of that, his mother is in denial and his sister has taken to wearing black and drawing into herself. He's got a parole officer on his butt all the time. Maggie and Caleb seem to be drawn together through their shared pain. But as I said, their romance isn't the main focus of the story.
It's like Maggie and Caleb both let other people and actions outside of their control determine who they are. During the course of Leaving Paradise we found out just how different Maggie and Caleb are from being a 'freak' and a 'criminal.' They're both very sympathetic characters and both their transitions are difficult. I found myself drawn to Maggie more than Caleb. She's vulnerable and unsure of herself, but she seems to have an inner strength and determination. Caleb is just too angry sometimes for me, he reminds me of someone I know. Both are healing from really terrible circumstances, and even hiding a secret or two...
I loved Leaving Paradise. It was very raw and emotional to read. I'm really glad that I read it and I shall definitely be reading more by Simone Elkeles! Bring it on. I read Leaving Paradise as part of Jo's Body Image and Self Perception month.