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.
I first read this book years ago, and remember really liking it. It is probably a more mature book than Elkeles hugely popular Perfect Chemistry, with more complicated characters. I love that the characters don’t always make the best decisions, as they’re still teenagers, and still distrustful of many adults.
However, when I first read it I had all the twists and turns ruined by an inconsiderate Goodreads reviewer who wrote out the book’s ENTIRE plot without spoiler tags. And this is one book where you do not want everything spoilt in advance!
Coming back to Leaving Paradise after a long time, I could appreciate the plot more, and I found I liked it as much as I did in the past.
Told from both Caleb and Maggie’s point of view, the book begins as both characters return to school after a year away – Caleb because he was in prison, and Maggie because of her serious injuries after being hit by the car Caleb went to prison for driving.
Of course, it is impossible to stay away from each other in a small town, and soon the two of them – both wanting to get away from all the people who don’t understand how they’ve changed – end up spending time together.
This is the ultimate setup for teen angst, but I didn’t find it overdone.
I do find the high school (and also university/college) culture depicted in many young adult and new adult books odd. Why are people in their late teens (and even early twenties) still doing the “popular kid”, “bully”, and “clique” things? Shouldn’t they have grown out of that by now?
The conclusion of Leaving Paradise does wrap many things up, but it is also not your standard young adult romance ending. There is a second book about these characters, also good but a little different, if you want to see what becomes of Caleb and Maggie.