by: Nevra Azerkan
Rating: [The Breakdown]
Return to Paradise, the sequel to Leaving Paradise, picks up eight months later with Caleb having another run-in with the law. As usual, he was not directly involved in this incident either, but being at the wrong place at the wrong time has made him guilty once again. Damon, his ex-transition counselor, makes a deal with him to join a program called Re-START instead of going to federal prison since Caleb is now of legal age. Re-START is a month long program where a group of teens travel around the Midwest telling their stories of how reckless driving has affected their lives. What he didn’t expect was Maggie being in the group. She resents him for not contacting her after he left and he puts on a jerk routine hoping she will move on because he feels she would be better off without him in her life.
It seems that fate continues to bring Caleb and Maggie together, but they must work through their problems if any relationship is going to work between them. Caleb’s attitude has completely changed from how he was in Leaving Paradise. At that time he had accepted what had happened to him and he worked on proving to others that he had taken responsibility for his alleged actions. He has now become cynical and confrontational with everyone especially Maggie. Any positive thinking he had before is long gone as he has no hope that his life will ever truly turn around. Maggie on the other hand has become a stronger person, but is in denial that she still has feelings for Caleb; feelings that, whether he likes it or not, he reciprocates.
The novel introduces us to four new characters that make the story more entertaining with their bickering, but also with the sharing of their own tragic tales. While Caleb and Maggie were beginning to overcome their issues with each other in Leaving Paradise, there were still many underlying problems that needed to be resolved. In the sequel, the Re-START program is instrumental in having everything come out into the open. You definitely have to read Leaving Paradise before moving on to Return to Paradise otherwise you will be missing some important key points.
Return to Paradise is the last book in the series and it wraps up nicely. We finally have the complete truth come out and appropriate actions are taken. The last couple of chapters are filled with all the pent up emotion that was being held by a secret for so long. Their families have much to digest, but each character is on the road to their own recovery. As for the romance side of things, well let’s just say that Caleb and Maggie finally find their Paradise.
I am always iffy when it comes to sequels, but Simone Elkeles managed to top the first novel. Everything about Return to Paradise is so raw and real. You want that happy ending to come, but this never started out like a fairytale, so at times it seems like it will not happen. Luckily, Elkeles does not disappoint and we are ultimately rewarded with an undeniable love story.