I bought this book before I decided to host Body Image and Self-Perception Month. Having fallen in love with Perfect Chemistry, I was desperate to read more of Simone Elkeles’ novels. I’m now really glad I discovered Leaving Paradise would work for BI&SP Month, because having finished it, I feel I should be writing an essay on it rather than a review. I have so many sticky page markers in the book for things I want to discuss, it’s ridiculous. I absolutely loved this book!
Leaving Paradise is so much more than just your average, simple love story. There is so much more going on within these pages than romance, butterflies, and sexual tension. This whole book is pretty much all about perception; not just how the characters see themselves, but how others see them too. If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with the actual romance; it started too abruptly too late in the book. Saying that, everything that happened before the romance was necessary, so maybe I just wanted the book to last longer to fill it out a bit more. But this really is outweighed by how amazing the rest of the book is.
I think I’ll have trouble articulating what it was like to read this book. In places, it was just so heart breaking, the way Maggie feels about herself, and at others I found myself relating to her far too easily. With her parents’ divorce a few years ago, and having very little contact with her dad since, Maggie’s self-esteem is drastically low even before the accident. Surely if her dad loved her, he wouldn’t have left her? Then the accident leaves her with permanent injuries, and ruins the one thing she was good at, the one thing she thought might make her dad proud and love her – her skill at playing tennis.
"I blink back tears as I try hard to forget. Because it hurts too much knowing his love for me wasn’t strong enough to make him stay. I wasn’t worth being loved enough.
Tennis was my saving grace, but even that didn’t work. I deserved to be admired on the court, because I was worth something when I played... I might not be worthy of my dad’s love, but I was worthy of that trophy." (p178)
But now she can’t play tennis, and to top it off, she has these awful scars on her legs. She’s stared and laughed at, and just wants to be normal. But strangely enough, she is; I find her criticisms of herself to be all too familiar.
"Ugh. I don’t want to think about Kendra Greene and her perfect blonde hair and her perfect, perky boobs or the perfect way she walks.
But I can’t help it.
Because I’m not perfect. " (p264)
"I look at myself in the bathroom mirror. Dull hazel eyes, hair that hasn’t decided if it wants to be dark or light, and a nose that’s too big for my face. On top of all those flaws, I have a limp.
How could I ever have thought I could compete with perfect Kendra Greene?" (p266)
What young girl doesn’t see flaws whenever they look in the mirror? What young girl doesn’t know a Kendra Greene? It’s all too familiar, but it’s incredibly sad. Fortunately, being a multiple point of view novel, we also get Caleb’s thoughts on Maggie’s so called flaws.
"Only able to check her out from the side, I study her face. She has high cheek bones and a straight nose. It’s not small; it has a little bump in the middle, almost as if God wanted to put it there so her nose wouldn’t be perfect. She wouldn’t be Maggie without that imperfection. She’s not in-your-face pretty like Kendra, but there’s something about her... that mix of insecurity and regal features that don’t fit. Every one of her features reflect who she is. Except her scars.
Those I wish I could take away with a touch of my fingers and transfer them to my own body." (p275)
I’ve focussed mainly on Maggie because of the body image issues, but there’s also the other aspects of perception; how Caleb is seen by others – an ex-con, scary, dangerous, a bad influence, when really he’s none of these. He’s no longer in prison, but he’s still not free from the label people have put on him, and what they expect from him. He’s still stuck in a cage, and it’s just awful. And there are also the insecurities of others; that of Mrs. Reynolds, who Maggie works for, and her story of when she was younger, and Maggie’s cousin Sabrina, who was a hanger on before, but is now one of the in-crowd. Each is dealt with in such an impacting way, that the reader cannot finish this book without thinking, and reflecting on themselves. It’s a truly amazing book, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel, Return to Paradise, which should be released later this year (see below).
I’m going to leave you with one final quote from Maggie, just because I saw it, and thought it was like reading my own thoughts, and I’m sure others would have felt this way at some point – yet I feel having it said like this makes us realise how sad it is.
"My dream is to find a guy who’ll love me despite my flaws and won’t turn away from me when a perfect girl walks by. Maybe a boy like that doesn’t even exist." (p124)
Published: Jan 2008
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Simone Elkeles’ Website
Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles - Maggie and Caleb just went through the worst year of their lives. Hit by a car and starting life over with a limp, Maggie never thought she would forgive Caleb. But she did-and fell in love. What they shared was real. But Caleb wanted to be free from the past-and a terrible secret: he wasn't the one who hit Maggie. So he left Paradise-and Maggie-forever.
When Maggie and Caleb run into each other in a different town, they can't deny their true feelings. Will Maggie let Caleb get away again? Or will Caleb face the truth and return to Paradise? From Amazon US - coming out 1st September 2010.