Monday, February 21, 2011

REVIEW: Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Caleb Becker left Paradise eight months ago, taking with him the secret he promised to take to his grave. If the truth got out, it would ruin everything.

Maggie Armstrong tried to be strong after Caleb broke her heart and disappeared. Somehow, she managed to move on. She's dermined to make a new life for herself.But then Caleb and Maggie are forced together on a summer trip. They try ignoring their passion for each other, but buried feelings resurface. Caleb must face the truth about the night of Maggie's accident, or the secret that destroyed their relationship will forever stand between them.

Last year I read and loved Leaving Paradise. As Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles is the sequel, parts of this review will be spoilers for Leaving Paradise! Leaving Paradise was the story of Maggie and Caleb, who fell in love with each other despite the fact that Caleb was convicted of the car accident that made Maggie seriously injure her leg.

What I loved most about it is that it wasn't really a love story as such. So much of the narrative focused on Maggie and Caleb as individuals coming to terms with the events that had happened. Maggie really needed to be able to move on and see that while her life had changed, it hadn't stopped when she was hit by the car. And Caleb was facing a lot of anger and resentment at how a year in a juvenile facility completely changed the way his family and other people viewed him differently. They were two broken people whose jagged edges seemed to fit together - it was rather sweet, the two of them together. So the romance in Leaving Paradise was present but didn't seem to be the central theme.

Fast-forward a bit and Caleb has left town, and without Maggie. When Return to Paradise begins, it's 8 months after Caleb left. He's been living in a flop house where drugs are sold and is arrested in a drugs bust. He gets in contact with his old parole officer, and is sent on a special trip where kids who have been involved or have been the victim of road accidents (usually due to the influence of drugs or alcohol) will be touring local schools and facilities in order to warn teenagers and young people of the dangers. Maggie is, of course, involved in this scheme already and together Caleb and Maggie face up to some truths about the car accident and their tenuous relationship.

I mostly enjoyed reading this book, but I read Return to Paradise around the same time that I read Rules of Attraction and the two books are just so very different. This series is a lot more chaste and it also seems to carry a very heavy-handed message both in terms of driving under the influence and relationships. As a reader I felt very bombarded with horror stories about car accidents. Each of the members of this special summer camp have their own stories to tell and lessons to be learned. It didn't really sink in for me, but it is possible that these are things that a teenage audience should be hearing about. I just wish there were a way to do it that was a little more subtle.

And as for the relationship between Caleb and Maggie, in this book I felt it to be all a little bit smarmy and slightly cheesy. I did enjoy the banter between the two and the way in which both Maggie and Caleb go back-and-forth with each other about their relationship, but I preferred the chemistry that they had in Leaving Paradise.

Despite this less-than-glowing sounding review, I did actually like this book. I like the concept of taking responsibility for your actions and making amends. I liked how Maggie's new attitude made her more bold and confident. I liked how Caleb was able to change his situation at his parent's house in order to take in those who needed a home. There were lots of things that I loved about this book, but the two major concepts that the book focuses on were slightly disappointing for me.

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