Sunday, September 12, 2010

RETURN TO PARADISE by Simone Elkeles

I need to start this review of RETURN TO PARADISE, the sequel to Leaving Paradise by talking about the author - Simone Elkeles - because she is the reason I read the first book in this series. Ever since I read Perfect Chemistry (my first Simone Elkeles book) I have loved her as an author - she writes emotional, edgy, real, romance books with deep characters. They are realistic fiction stories about girls and boys in high school, but go beyond just the typical cliched looks at high school that some young adult books in this genre stick to.  They also go beyond just the girl's story and drama - we get to hear from both the boy and the girl who are the main characters in the story. By switching points of view for each chapter, we get characters who are more fully developed and go beyond shallow feelings, to understanding why the conflict happens in these relationships. While they are romance stories, they go beyond that with deeply-flawed characters who have to find their way through their own issues before they can be part of a couple, and discover more about themselves and the how to get by in the world around them by their journeys through these stories.  Simone writes in a direct style with a voice that seems true to life for teenagers. Her books are not overly complicated, they are to-the-point delving into the emotions, hardships, struggles, inner-battles, and love of the characters she writes. There are a few more mature situations in her books, but nothing too graphic, and always handled well with the thoughts and emotions that the characters go through in relation to those situations.

Now that you know how much I love Simone Elkeles as an author, I need to tell you about the first book in the series. I first read Leaving Paradise when one of my students gave me her copy to borrow after I read Perfect Chemistry and talked about how much I loved it.  I devoured Leaving Paradise in one day. It is the story of Maggie, whose leg was severely injured when hit by a drunk driver and a year later is still struggling with getting her life and spirit back to being able to live her life. Caleb is the boy who went to jail for hitting her - and also her neighbor and twin brother of Maggie's best friend. The story starts when Caleb comes home from juvie and Maggie is heading back to school.  In all of their emotional struggles that ensue with their life changes, Maggie and Caleb realize that the one person they're most afraid of - each other - might be the only person who can help them get through to the other side.  I loved the first book, but felt a little let down by the ending, mostly because I felt it left Maggie and Caleb's story a bit unfinished.  

Flash forward to a year and a half later when I heard Simone had written a sequel - RETURN TO PARADISE - to complete Maggie and Caleb's story and let us know what happened after Leaving Paradise.  Simone was running a facebook contest and I commented about her books and she thanked me for being a teacher who reads what her students read and then offered to send me a free copy of the book. I was really excited to read this book, and was not disappointed. The thing that I really loved about this book is that it wasn't just an easy path for either of them when after eight months, Caleb shows back up in Maggie's life. They are on a summer trip to tell other teens about the dangers of reckless driving with four other teens who have also been affected in some way. Both of them have their reasons for having their guard up and fighting against the feelings they have for each other, while each of them has to travel their own path to self-acceptance and realizing that the other one is the best person for them.  

Without giving away too much of the story, I will say that when the realization is made that accidents affect far more than just the perpetrator and the victim, but the entire families around them, it is a moment of healing, acceptance, and moving forward that was much needed for their stories. The other thing I really like is that neither one of them has to give up who they are or what is important to them to be better with each other. Simone has left this book with a satisfying ending for Maggie, Caleb, their families, friends, and the reader. Now, with both books combined, this feels like a complete story and journey of discovery, acceptance, and healing for these characters who I was began to care about.

Simone Elkeles' Books:
Perfect Chemistry - Rules of Attraction - Chain Reaction (early 2011)
Leaving Paradise - Return to Paradise
How to Ruin a Summer Vacation - How to Ruin My Teenage Life - How to Ruin Your Boyfriend's Reputation

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