Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [YA]

Review: Paradise by Jill Alexander

Paradise by Jill Alexander is a book I'm really torn on. I've had a hard time deciding how I felt about this book overall because I felt so different when I finished from when I started. I asked on Twitter if my review could just be — "I loved this book. Until the end. When I didn't... " — I know it's not really enough to be a review on it's own, but it actually sums up how I felt about this book quite nicely. So, I'm saying it.

This is a book about so many things — music, passion, first love, parents, family, life, trust, pain, hope, etc. But at it's core, it's the story of a young girl, filled with more than she knows what to do with, trying to figure out who she is, and where she belongs.

I think the strongest part of this book is the characterization. Alexander has created such a strong and unique cast of characters and each character has their own very distinct voice. I was amazed at how much Alexander was able to convey about each character with so little. Cal is the perfect example of this. The only time we hear his thoughts is through the lyrics he writes in his song journal and yet those few lyrics tell us so much about him and how he feels and how he views life. It's amazing. But, all of the characters are full and whole and so well developed. I could go on and on and each has something unique to bring to the story that no one else would be able to offer.

I also loved Paisley's character. She's fierce and strong and a little unsure of herself at times. Gabriela is a completely new experience for Paisley. He comes from Paradise, Texas, so that's what she starts calling him and it seems to fit him really well. He's good looking, confident (or cocky, depending on the day and who you ask) and he's into her. Like, really into her. But Paisley has an interesting mom. One who has drilled and drilled and drilled it into her that she is not to get pregnant and stuck in their small town. So, Paisley has worn an abstinence ring for years and because she is so focused on her music, boys have never really been a priority before, so it isn't a big deal to her. But Paradise makes her starting thinking about things and makes her wonder how she really feels about it.

I loved this part of Paisley's character. I know that teens have sex. Really, I do. I promise. I know that it happens. But I also know that it doesn't happen as often as media makes us think it does. There are teens out there who have never had sex and don't feel ready for it as teenagers, and that's okay! So, Paisley is working out for herself whether or not she is ready to make that choice. And she thinks about it. A lot. Which I thought was incredible. It's a huge choice and it is one that, once made, you cannot take back. I loved the line where Paisley and Paradise are making out and Paradise tries to go farther than she is ready for. She backs away and he tells her that she doesn't have to be afraid to say yes to him. She replies with something along the lines of, I know. I'm not afraid to say yes, but I'm also not afraid to say no. I think more teens need to realize this. Especially if they are feeling under pressure to make a choice they aren't sure they are ready for. Be sure. And if you are not, there is nothing wrong with saying no.

I also thought it was very interesting to watch Paisley's interaction with her mother and the ways that Paisley and Lacey (her older sister) both handled their mother's controlling nature. She's so worried that they are going to end up like her — stuck in a tiny town because they got pregnant in high school (even though she is still married to their dad and he is awesome!) so she takes the extreme on everything. Boys are terrible and forbidden, as is anything she doesn't believe will help them leave the town. So Paisley hides the fact that she's in a band, hides a huge part of her true self from her mother and you definitely feel the strain of that begin to weigh in throughout the book.

It's such a strong book. It's a realistic story full of believable characters, people that I would love to know in real life. This book is an example of Contemporary YA at it's finest and a great example of why I love Contemporary. Why it's always my favorite genre. Or, at least it was... Until that ending...

I don't want to say to much about the ending of this book, because not only has every review I've read for this book talked about the ending, but also because it is something that really should be experienced for yourself and I really don't want to spoil it for anyone. I knew when I started the book that the ending was going to be shocking and huge, but I didn't know anything more than that. To be honest, it gave me serious anxiety when I reached the part of the book where I knew the shocking moment was close. I stalled myself at those last chapters for a long time because I was afraid to see what happened.

And the thing is, I didn't like it. It was shocking, it was a big thing, but I felt like it was there just to be shocking. Not because it really added to the story, not because it was necessarily the best place for the story to go, but because it made for some awesome drama. Maybe that's not really fair of me to say, or to assume. But it's how I felt reading it, and what you take away as the reader is ultimately what the story becomes. To me, the ending is one of the absolute most important parts of a book. An ending can turn a really great book into something terrible (I'm looking at you, Julie of the Wolves) or it can take a book I'm fairly lukewarm about and make it into something really special (mad props to The Bronze Bow). Unfortunately, this book was more of the former. While the ending didn't completely ruin the book for me, it definitely changed (and lowered) my overall feelings for the book.

Even though the ending was a disappointment, this is still a book that I would recommend to people, and I'd actually even recommend it strongly to most people. Alexander is a great writer. She writes strong characters and I'm amazed by how much she's able to convey with this story. I just wish that it had remained that way through to the end.

*Disclaimer — I received an ARC from the author through the Teen Book Scene for a fair and unbiased review.