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.
Details: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles, 303 pages, 4.21 stars on Goodreads
My Thoughts: I was excited when I first read the synopsis to this. It sounded like it would make for a thoughtful book with an interesting romance. I've always loved books that have unlikely love interests, so I looked forward to getting the book. I was even more excited when I saw the cover I had (which was different from the one I'd initially seen on Goodreads) was absolutely gorgeous. So it may be that the fact I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted to can be attributed to my high expectations.
The first thing I noticed as I was reading were the errors. There were several instances where "to" was mixed up with "too", and it really threw me off. Every time I got up to one of those errors, it jarred me out of the story. Even the dedication misused grammar ("To Brent: who brightens my day just by looking at him"). I know my grammar isn't perfect, but I would expect a published book to be more polished.
The characters didn't seem as developed as I would have liked them to be. Caleb and Maggie both seemed pretty flat, like cardboard cut-outs just placed in the story. They were uninteresting and dull, and neither of their POVs were particularly unique. Much of this book felt contrived and unrealistic, but especially the romance. I'm all for the whole forbidden romance angle, but it felt very rough going from the characters hating each other to loving each other. If someone left me dying in the street after hitting me with a car, and essentially screwed up my life, there is no chance I would want much to do with him. Maggie feels similarly in the beginning, but then all of a sudden she's in love with him.
The ending was strange and abrupt, especially with that final plot twist. It kind of felt like a plot twist, and I don't understand why Caleb never told Maggie what really happened that night. I don't want to read the sequel, and while I probably will try to read Perfect Chemistry at some point (I hear the writing's better in that series), I was quite disappointed with Leaving Paradise.
All in all, this isn't a book I would recommend unless you really enjoy Simone Elkeles's writing.
Plot - 4/5
Writing - 2/5
Characters - 2/5
Impact - 1/5
Inability to put it down - 2/5
Overall - 44% = C-