!Beware of spoilers throughout!
Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot is raw with how life actually is and is expected to be. There were so many allusions and gosh darn it (!) I fell in love with it. The cover betrays the inside of the book in the fact that the cover makes it seem like any other contemporary, fun, summer read out there. But it’s not. This novel, which is a phenomenal novel especially for a debut, reminded me of so many other books I had read but as I sit here now, I realize that it’s completely unique in every way. I liked the allusion to Great Gatsby and how it got brought back up throughout the entire book. I didn’t realize completely until a certain moment about halfway through the book, that Even in Paradise is a contemporary Gatsby. Though the ending is different, in a way it isn’t, and I’ll get back to that later in the review.
Charlotte, aka Charlie, is a girl that I could have easily related to at the beginning of the book. She was quiet and studious and just trying to get her way through the scholarship at the prestigious boarding school in New England, St. Anne’s. The first chapter quickly brings her into Julia Buchanan’s life, and from there it just begins to spiral out of Charlie’s control. There were so many events and mysteries in Julia’s life that entrapped me under her spell that I didn’t quite see how she was changing Charlie, but she was. Charlie became more wanting to explore but she also became more cautious. I was a little weary once we got introduced to all the Buchanan clan, especially of Sebastian,[but quickly got over that after Charlie goes to Arcadia. Arcadia is like THE place for all events, and almost is about where Charlie gets all of her memories for the memory box.
Julia is a force to be reckoned with and she definitely shows that throughout the book.
After I learned that Julia was the one driving the car when her sister and her sister’s boyfriend got killed, I suddenly understood everything that Julia was doing. All the crazy things that she does is a way to grieve, because Gus did those things too. Julia was a beautiful crazy, and that’s not even the right way to describe her. Julia just is, and she is amazing at it. I don’t think anyone could ever perfectly describe Julia, but with all that she went through that’s okay. I guess the only word that could tickle at who her character was is this: real. Her character was real. Not the clichéd rich girl that I thought she was going to be. Julia Buchanan was real.
Sebastian, Sebastian, Sebastian. I knew there was a reason why I didn’t want to love him when we first got introduced to him, and it was because he had a girlfriend. I eventually fell in love with him, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like that he wanted to kiss Charlie while he had a girlfriend. It doesn’t matter how horrible of a person she was, no one deserves that. And then when Charlie and Sebastian start dating, I constantly was thinking, “Is he trying to kiss other girls?” ] But that made his character all the more real to me. He wasn’t perfect and he didn’t have just ONE flaw. He had many, and I was okay with that. He tried over and over again to make sure he was worthy of Charlie, and I loved that. I was almost sad at the end when him and Charlie didn’t end up together, but I was also happy because of that. This wasn’t a perfect book with a perfect ending. It was real.
I liked the Buchanan parents, but I didn’t like one thing. They laid almost all the responsibility on Charlie to control Julia, and that just rubbed me the wrong way. That was about the only thing I had to complain about the parents. I loved them in every way otherwise. Actually, I loved all the characters in this book. It was hard not to. All I can say about this book is that it was realistic in a way that not many authors are quick to portray.
Congrats Chelsey Philpot on your debut novel, and for making it real.