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Leaving Paradise - Simone Elkeles If I had read this book in 2007, when it was released...and I didn't know about the upcoming sequel/continuation, I would be extremely pissed about the ending. Considering I only have 6 months to wait for the story's continuation in Return to Paradise, I'm only moderately pissed at the abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I'm confident Maggie and Caleb will get the HEA I want them to have in book 2.

This story begins with Caleb facing the review board in a juvenile detention after having served 1 year for driving drunk, maiming his neighbor Maggie with his car, and then leaving the scene of the accident (don't worry...not everything is as it appears).

Maggie has gone through numerous surgeries and is essentially an outcast now walking with a limp. Her father left the family and doesn't really want her to visit. Insurance didn't cover everything, so Maggie's mom struggles to support them with a waitressing job. Prior to the accident, Maggie was actually in love with Caleb for years. But Caleb was dating a superficial popular cheerleader, who also happened to be the major's daughter. Maggie has been looking forward to "Leaving Paradise" :) with a study abroad trip for the 2nd semester of senior year---right around the time Caleb was suppose to be released from prison.

Maggie's senior year begins, but surprise surprise, Caleb's back a little early. In addition to meeting with his "transition coach" regularly, his early release also requires regular community service. When Maggie's study abroad athletic scholarship falls through, and an opportunity to early $$$ for the trip by acting as the "companion" of a sweet but wise old lady, Mrs. Reynolds, she jumps on it. When Caleb's community service requirements places him in daily contact with Maggie at the Reynold's resident, they can no longer deny their connection of feeling isolated. Sure, Caleb's manipulative cheerleader ex-girfriend comes sniffing around for her bad boy, but it's Maggie that keeps him up at night. His friends don't understand his attraction to the "cripple" and the "bitch that put him in jail." Simple caresses of Maggie's hand are more erotic than anything Caleb's every experienced.

With about 30 pages to go, the story started to disappoint me. I didn't understand why Caleb was allowing himself to be manipulated by his ex-girlfriend, and when I found out why - I was like, really? I also didn't like Maggie's all too convenient "ah ha!" moment where she finally remembers the details of that fateful accident. I didn't understand why Caleb didn't defend himself when people assumed the worse about him...when not defending himself would jeopardize his newly earned freedom. And then, The Ending. I was getting closer and closer - 5 pages...3 pages, telling myself, "she's not REALLY about to end this story like this...whaaaa, huh?" Alex makes a bold move guaranteed to risk his probationary period. Sure, Maggie is stronger, more confident, and generally in a better place by story's conclusion. But it's not ending I anticipated or hoped for. But I'm still very captivated by Maggie and Caleb's beautiful love story and I'll be first in line for book 2.