Monday, October 20, 2014

Even in Paradise, by Chelsea Philpot

I initially picked up Chelsea Philpot's Even in Paradise because I was desperately looking for a read-alike for We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, a book I devoured earlier this year and have ever since been seeking something of comparable awesomeness. Even in Paradise seemed like it had promise for that (maybe it was the cover similarities). 

Paradise did have some striking similarities to Lockhart's masterpiece (If Liars were to have be told from an outsider's point of view), but it also reminded me a lot of Perks of Being A Wallflower in that the narrator recounts an almost magical time in her life when she was swept into a golden world by friends who are too good to be true.

Unlike most of the students who attend St. Anne's, Charlotte is fairly normal and relatable: She's not rich or the daughter of someone famous. She doesn't wear expensive clothes or have an impressive (or infamous) background. She's a scholarship student, studies art, and is friendly with most but has no best friend. She's normal. And kind of boring.

That all changes the night she saves a very intoxicated Julia Buchanan from being busted for underage drunkenness, a behavior that would surely cause the girl to be expelled. From that point, Julia takes Charlotte ("Charlie") under her wing and introduces her to a world of beautiful things and beautiful people. Charlotte is charmed and awed. And she's more than a little bit in love with Julia's brother, Sebastian. It was the magical sort of friendship Charlotte always dreamed about but never expected to personally encounter.

But not all is as golden as Charlotte first believes.

On the surface, the Buchanan family seems the picture of perfection: Beautiful, rich, privileged, famous, and always smiling in the spotlight. But beneath all that gloss and glitter lurks a dark tragedy: Years ago, Julia Buchanan, her sister Augustine ("Gus"), and Gus's boyfriend , David, were in an auto accident. Julia walked away with only bruises. Gus and David weren't so lucky. 

This is something Julia was up front about right away. 

The twist, the truth no one knows (or will admit to), is this: Julia, then 14, had actually been the one behind the wheel on that fateful night...and the guilt that she was responsible for the two deaths has been eating away at her ever since. 

In a perfect storybook ending, Charlotte would help Julia overcome the tragedy. She would be the rock while her friend healed and got past the guilt and sorrow. And the two of them would grow closer because of it and become lifelong friends.

But this is not a perfect storybook ending. Julia is too broken for such a recovery. And instead of trying to face her guilt and the tragedy, she distances herself from everything and everyone that reminds her of it. And that includes distancing herself Charlotte. 

The ending is not a happy one. It's messy, it's cruel, but it's also realistic. Sometimes friendships last, but quite often they don't. Sometimes there is a falling out. Sometimes people grow apart. And sometimes there is no explanation for why a friendship ends. It just does.

But there's also hope for a new (albeit different) beginning. The reader knows Charlotte will be OK despite everything.

So was Even in Paradise the We Were Liars read-alike I was hoping for? No. Not quite. Not even close. I guessed the twist early on. In fact, I guessed it the first time Julia and Charlotte ever talked about the accident. There were no jaw-in-my-lap surprise endings that left me with that "OMG!" feeling long after I finished the last page. 

But I really liked Even in Paradise even though it wasn't what I was hoping for. I liked it for it's own awesome qualities: The characters and the ways their relationships developed... that hazy, nostalgic quality to the narration that made everything that happened to her seem almost too good to be true... The way the plot was built. 

Definitely recommended! --AJB

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