SPOILER warning. This is the sequel to Leaving Paradise [review] and this review contains spoilers from that first book, read at your own risk.
Perfect Chemistry is possibly Simone's most recognized title, it seems to get a lot of mention on YA blogs (for good reason) and I loved it [review] as well. But Leaving Paradise is easily my favourite of Simone's books and I rate it as one of the very best YA books I've read. It's an intense emotional roller coaster that left me in tears and desperate for more. Finally the sequel is here and I finished it within a few hours of managing to get my hands on it. And you know what? It wasn't a let down in any way!
It picks up eight months after the end of Leaving Paradise. Caleb Becker is in trouble again and to avoid jail time he is forced to attend a summer camp of sorts. He's with a group of teens who have been seriously affected by teenaged drink driving, and they are going to other groups of teens to tell their stories. One big problem; Maggie Armstrong, the girl Caleb was convicted of hitting whilst driving drunk, the girl he left behind 9 months ago, is part of the group. Caleb thought he'd left Maggie and his problems behind him for good when he left Paradise, but now he's forced to face them. Meanwhile, Maggie is still adapting to being disabled, forever walking with a limp thanks to the accident. And they're both forced to confront the past, their feelings for each other, and the secret that tore them apart as they're on this journey.
I loved the set up for Maggie and Caleb's reunion. And I loved the other teens also on the trip, their own personal tales, all so different from one another, adding to the mix as they got to know each other better and some interesting relationships and bonds were formed. They all played off each other so well. They don't all get on, and the way they all act and treat each other is the kind of behaviour I think everyone can relate to in some way. I liked how it pushed Caleb and Maggie in different ways, and I liked getting to know the new characters as well.
But of course the focus is on Caleb an Maggie. Like Leaving Paradise it's told in alternating points of view, Caleb and Maggie, giving the reader the chance to see the truth about how they're both feeling. I love seeing that when they see very different sides of each other. I loved them both in Leaving Paradise and I love them even more now. They've both changed a lot since the events of LP, and the continue to grow and change throughout Return to Paradise as well. It's as intense and emotional a journey as LP, but in a different way. It's got an edge to it LP didn't have. There was a lot of pain in LP but it's more anger and heat that flows through RTP. There are some surprising moments and outcomes to certain events in this one, but it's also got some laugh out loud humor as well.
It's fast paced, I could not put it down. I was hooked once more in to Caleb and Maggie's story within a page. It's an awesome, satisfying conclusion to their tale and as a follow up to one of my favourite YA books ever, it's fantastic. Both this and LP have a realness to them, the way they don't flinch dealing with serious issues, that I just love. Caleb and Maggie are very complex characters with a lot going on for them both, together and apart. I can't explain how much I love them both, following their journey, the ups and downs they face. I can get angry at them, disagree with them, but ultimately, I love them both completely. A really awesome read and one I highly recommend!! 10/10