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Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

I was so happily surprised (and intensely affected) by Leaving Paradisethat I couldn't wait to start in on the sequel, the inevitably titled Return to Paradise. Honestly, I loved Maggie and Caleb so much that I savored the thought of them back on the page together, dealing with the awkward and ambiguous place they were unceremoniously left in at the end of the first book. Naturally, snagging an ARC of Return to Paradise was pretty high up on my list of things to do at BEA. And I hadn't even read the first book yet! I have to say I'm not loving the cover, though. The newer cover of Leaving Paradise struck just the right note, when it comes to the fear and pain and connection between these two characters. The cover of the sequel just doesn't measure up, in my opinion. It probably doesn't help that that's not how I picture either of them and that kissing under the moonlight by a lake (while it may happen in the book) just doesn't really encompass the whole of what's going on in this story. But enough about that. On to the insides.

Maggie has worked for eight grueling months to put Caleb Becker and his inexplicable desertion behind her. She's gone over and over it in her mind and come to the conclusion that if he wasn't willing to tough it out and stay and fight to keep what was between them alive, then she's not going to waste her life crying over the loss. And she's doing a fine job of moving on. Getting ready to leave for Spain on study abroad, Maggie is spending her summer participating in a teen outreach program wherein she travels with a group of other kids whose lives were altered by substance abuse or violence or unutterably bad decisions, giving talks to other teens who might be on the verge of trouble. Unfortunately, Maggie's resolve is put to the test when Caleb abruptly joins the group. Dragged back from wherever he'd disappeared to by his former transition counselor Damon, this trip is Caleb's last chance to redeem himself and avoid being sent back to jail for living with drug dealers for the last several months. Against their better judgement, Maggie and Caleb set out on the venture, unwilling and unhappy trip mates. Of course there are a few other misfits along for the ride and their stories get interwoven with this one, but the focus remains on the emotional damage these two have undergone in the last year and the large chasm that has cropped up between them when once they were so close.

I don't really know how to put this. But this book was a very big disappointment. Where the first was such a wonderfully absorbing surprise, this one meandered on and on until I had to force myself to finish it. The writing was simply not up to par with that of her previous books and this was one instance of the uncorrected mistakes in the ARC frequently distracting me. I realize these will be corrected in the final version. But the main problem I had with it were actually the odd changes in the two principal characters. Caleb was rough in the first book. As a direct result of spending a year in juvie, he was necessarily changed by the experience. But he was never mean. Coarse and frustrated and full to the brim with anger, yes. But never mean. In an unpleasantly snarky way. And certainly not to Maggie. That hesitant reserve he had when it came to her was such a highlight for me. But in Return to Paradise, he is mean. Downright lousy sometimes. I didn't buy it, I didn't like it, and it was painful to read not only because of how it affected the other characters but because it felt inauthentic to me as the reader. Maggie was vulnerable and afraid in the first book. As a direct result of the accident that left her maimed, she was understandably that way. And she does grow a spine in this book. Or at least we're to believe she has. But she seems to waffle back and forth all over the place when it comes to taking what Caleb deals her and that, too, felt wrong to me somehow. These two knew each other better than that. Their connection was real and fine and worth reading about before. And I know there needs to be conflict and tension to provide fodder for a sequel at all, but it just came off as messy and immature here. Which is such a shame, as I truly missed that breathtaking, organic connection from Leaving Paradise. So definitely don't miss the first book. But unfortunately I'd recommend giving this one a pass and just imagining up the ending you'd like in your head instead.


Linkage
Laura's Review Bookshelf Review (of both books)

Comments

  1. I agree with all of the points you made. The characters definately didn't seem like the same characters they were in the 1st book and in the end I felt let down. Several times throughout the book I considered putting it down and waiting until the final version was out, not only hoping that the mistakes would be corrected, but that I might feel a stronger connection to the characters.

    One of the problems I had was that there wasn't so much one central plot, as a lot of seperate occurances connected by nothing more than the characters interaction.

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  2. Anonymous11:47 AM

    Very good analysis of why this book didn't work. I reread the lemonade scene in Leaving Paradise, which led to rereading many more scenes, and it was just painful to think about how this complex relationship between Caleb and Maggie was simplified in Return.
    This was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2010 and it will probably be the biggest disappointment.

    KarenS

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  3. I need this now.

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  4. lol. I totally left that comment BEFORE I actually read your review, and now I'm all sad! I wanted it to be good!!

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  5. Wwow, that sounds supremely disappointing. I had considered getting this even if it wasn't as great as the first book, but hearing that Caleb turns mean? uh-uh. Not going there.

    Thanks for the review.

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  6. Wonderful review, it's a bummer that you felt a little let down with this one. I think I'll still put it on my list of books to read soon because I'm curious. Thanks for the heads up though.

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  7. Aw, I had high hopes for this. Maybe I'll feel differently, who knows? Great job explaining why you didn't like it!

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  8. Oh No! I also seriously dislike the cover, it's bad and it shows real people something I can't stand when it comes to cover but I had great expectations for this one, so far Elkeles hasn't disappointed me yet

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  9. I think this cover just looks so naff and cheesy, and I much prefer the cover to Leaving Paradise so much better. I'm really quite upset for you that you didn;t enjoy it, because you seemed to have the same exact feelings as me about LP, and because of the raw emotional complexity of the characters I really wanted this sequel to really blow me out of the water. I think i'm going to give this a miss, thanks so much for the honest review

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  10. Katy, I did the same thing. And maybe things will be better in the final book. But I agree--nothing was going on except them hacking at each other. And if they'd sparked like they did in LP, that would have been one thing. But the spark was missing somehow.

    Karen, oh, that scene. I loooove that scene. Made me choke up when I first read it. And, yes, simplified is what happened. It was just . . . too wispy. Too without substance. *sigh*

    Liza, I did too! So sad over it...

    Kay, he just wasn't smart like he was before. And he kept yanking her around for sport it seemed. Ugh. It wasn't Caleb.

    Rowena, my pleasure. Well, actually, in this case I'm sorry to have said what I did. But I just felt so let down. I'd be very interested to hear what you thought after reading it.

    Lurker, you may very well. I mean who can resist wanting to spend more time with these two? Not me.

    Emily, I don't now why they didn't continue on in the theme of the first cover. It was made of win. Why switch gears like this? I would be really interested to see what you thought of this one.

    Carla, hate to be the bearer of bad news. I really do. But that raw complexity and sweetness are MIA here. And I missed them So. Much.

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  11. How disappointing. Sorry it fell so flat for you. This is why I get nervous as well as excited about sequels. Luckily you have put my mind to rest about one of my most highly anticipated sequels (Linger) so I can just be excited. Now you need to read and tell about Ascendant :)

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  12. Aww, so sorry to hear that you were disappointed with this one. I still look forward to reading Leaving Paradise.

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  13. I had such high hopes pinned on to this one. I loved the characters Caleb and Magie as flawed as they were. But looks like I am going to be disappointed :)

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  14. Alexa, I know. I feel the same way. Fortunately LINGER was lovely. And I'm looking forward to ASCENDANT!

    Chachic, good! I really loved it. It's totally worth reading even by itself.

    Shweta, I'm so sorry. I loved them too.

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  15. where did all og yo red this bpook.and when you all radthis book i th en did they finally end up with their happy endng ith achother?

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  16. I had been avoiding reading your review of this book until I had the opportunity to read it myself. Well, I just finished it an hour ago and came back to see what you had written. I am sad to say that I agree with you on every point. The character changes in Caleb and Maggie and in their relationship didn't make any sense, and I also hated that Caleb became mean and manipulative for no reason. What happened to the kind and considerate Caleb that we met in the first book, who was that way even after a yearlong stint in juvie? What a disappointment, especially since I think Leaving Paradise is Elkeles' best book. :(

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