Saturday, July 2, 2011

Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Return to Paradise tells the story of Maggie Armstrong and Caleb Becker 8 months after Caleb leaves his hometown of Paradise. The novel opens with Caleb being arrested in a drug raid. He's been living in a drug house in Chicago with Rico, the brother of Julio, a fellow juvie he met in the first book. Caleb has been spending the past months working at Chicago Recycling and is innocent (again!) of the charges.
When Damon Manning, his transition counselor learns of Caleb's arrest, he arranges for him to participate in Re-START a program which has teens who've been affected by reckless teen driving talk to their peers. As it turns out, Maggie has also decided to join this group. The result is that Maggie and Caleb are once again thrown together for a month with other teens as they travel throughout the Midwest US.

Caleb and Maggie soon realize that they still have a "thing" for one another, but their relationship while passionate, lacks trust and honesty. Maggie tries to convince Caleb that he needs to return to Paradise and come clean about what really happened the night she was injured. Neither really trusts the motives of the other. Maggie wants Caleb to understand that neither of them can heal and move on until he faces the truth.

Eventually Caleb decides he wants his life back. He doesn't want to be alone. He doesn't want his family to think he gave upon them and he doesn't want to lose Maggie. He gradually understands that by not telling the truth and trying to protect someone he is actually harming that person as well as himself. So he makes the decision to return to Paradise. It's in Paradise that both Maggie and Caleb's families finally learn what really happened the night Maggie was injured.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the fact that Maggie didn't give up on Caleb and encouraged him to tell the truth about what happened. She saw his well-intentioned lie as being the cowardly choice and a very harmful one. I also loved the fact that they finally came to terms with how they felt about one another and were able to move on from there.

What I didn't like about Return to Paradise was the numerous make-out episodes, the crass situations involving the teen group and the plentiful f-bombs. Maybe this was done for the sake of realism, to demonstrate that Caleb had become hardened by being in juvie. But, for me, it took away from the overall quality of the writing and the reading experience.

Return to Paradise is definitely a book for older teens given the mature content and language. It's themes of forgiveness, redemption and love will resonate with these teens the most.

Book Details:
Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Woodbury, Minnesota: Flux 2010
291 pp.

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