Cristina & Lauren Read:Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot
Published by HarperCollins on October 14th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Family, Friendship, Retellings, Young Adult
Pages: 360 •Format: Hardcover •Source: Library
The Great Gatsby meets Looking for Alaska in this stunning debut novel.When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne's at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about her. Most people do . . . or think they do. Charlotte certainly never expects she'll be Julia's friend. But almost immediately, she dives headfirst into the larger-than-life new girl's world—a world of midnight rendezvous, dazzling parties, palatial vacation homes, and fizzy champagne cocktails. And then Charlotte meets, and begins falling for, Julia's handsome older brother, Sebastian. But behind Julia's self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, Charlotte soon realizes, she is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden . . . until now.With inspiration drawn from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Chelsey Philpot's moving debut novel perfectly captures the intensity, the thrill, and the heartbreak of our too-brief friendships and loves.
Book Buddies is a discussion style review I participate in every other month with my friend Lauren who runs the blog Bookmarklit. We choose a themed book for the month, read it, and the have a discussion where we both discuss themes and aspects that really stood out to us.Book Buddy Reviews are posted during the last week of the month.You can see our review in a Q&A format with half posted here, and half on Lauren’s blog!
1)Did the Buchanans charm you? Do you think the author achieved the desired effect of making them a sort of unattainable, beautiful yet broken family?
L: I’m not really sure, to be honest. I feel like the book did have some engrossing and charming qualities, but I wasn’t completely “smitten” with them or anything. They seemed like a broken family from the very beginning to me. I feel like they relied SO much on Charlie to keep Julia in line. I couldn’t believe some of the calls and emails they sent her, asking them to keep Julia in line in different ways. I’ll talk more about this later, for your other question, but I think it goes along with my feelings about the family. I mean, her parents are grown adults. They should know how to keep their daughter in line or at least try harder to do it – instead of expecting someone else to do it. I don’t see the charm of them except for the fact that they had glitzy parties and a big house. I can see how people may be drawn to that, but it didn’t feel that real to me. It all felt very Gatsby-like in that regard, where you’re intrigued by them and their lifestyle, but that’s about it.
C: I definitely agree. I think they were supposed to not always be likeable, but I found so little to even be empathetic with that it made it hard for me to care about the characters at all. I liked that it seemed like Julia’s mom was the matriarch of the family and really in charge because Boom (Julia’s dad) was more like a big kid, but the way they deferred almost all responsibility of Julia and her issues to Charlie (or Sophie, or Piper…) was pretty disgusting. But like you said, it is Gatsby like in the sense that the Buchanans-Daisy included-were not nice or likeable people beyond their wealth and glamour (although I did like Gatsby himself). I also wasn’t very smitten by the Buchanan love interest at ALL. So the romance really fell flat for me too, and almost seemed unnecessary because of the intensity between Julia and Charlie.
2) What was your favorite Gatsby parallel in the book?
L: I like your response to my question about Gatsby. I feel like the book tried too hard to emulate that novel. It wasn’t bad, and I think it made things a bit more interesting, but it got a little to forced at the end. I thought it was funny that Charlie actually had to read The Great Gatsby for her summer reading! I thought that was an interesting touch. I feel like she should have paid more attention to the parallels between that novel and her friendship with the Buchanans though. How could she be reading that book for school and not make the connection that it’s exactly the same situation?! I believe that she did make some correlation but I don’t think it was enough. My favorite Gatsby-like element was definitely the parties. I was picturing them as Gatsby’s parties (at least the ones in the movie!), so they seemed kind of fun… but a little less crazy than his!
C: Oh, you’re totally right, I almost forgot about that subtle nod to the novel itself when the girls are assigned to read Gatsby. You’re right, how could she NOT see the parallels (they even have a last name from the book!) I think my favorite element from the book was actually the plot twist toward the end View Spoiler »where you find out Julia was actually driving the car in the accident, but Gus took the plan for it in death to protect Julia. It was the perfect parallel to when Daisy hits someone and Gatsby takes the blame, if inadvertently. « Hide Spoiler I also liked how Gus was the Gatsby-esque figure, elusive and haunting everyone’s past, and Charlie (as the “Nick” figure) spends time trying to reunite Julia with Gus’ memory.
3) Charlie spends a majority of the book acting as Julia’s keeper, putting her happiness and friendship often above her personal needs. Did you find her behavior admirable or alarming?
L: I started to talk about this a little earlier, but it really bugged me. I wrote in my notes that I definitely related to Charlie’s need to please other people above herself, because I tend to be like that too, but this was an extreme case. I feel like so much of the book was telling instead of showing. I didn’t really feel like they had a solid friendship or anything. Her behavior was more alarming than admirable because you shouldn’t be the caregiver for someone who is supposed to be your best friend. Aside from her parents paying for everything for Charlie and inviting her into their home, I don’t feel like she got anything real from the friendship.
C: Me too! Charlie was literally Julia’s keeper, and was clearly not the first one to have been in the role. It bugged me that Charlie was being blatantly taken advantage of, and knew it to a large extent, and did nothing to try and stop it (in fact, she pretty much liked it). It made it feel like she had no real sense of self, she was completely malleable in the Buchanan’s hands. Even in the beginning of the book it seemed strange, that Charlie would rush out of her dorm in the middle of the night and risk taking the fall for a drunk girl she wasn’t even friends with. In some ways it almost feels like taking a step back in the YA genre, because I get so excited when I see more of these positive, empowering females friendships, but then this was definitely a toxic one.
4) The narrative is a mix of normal “chapters,” emails, past conversations, news articles, etc. which is rare in a contemporary read like this one. Did you like the shifts in how the narrative was presented?
L: I’m actually a big fan of shifts like that. I think it’s fun to read different elements of life, instead of just regular chapters. This generally makes the book an even quicker read for me and I find myself racing through it much faster. I think, in this case, it gave a bit more background information on the relationships between all of the characters. The chapters usually didn’t provide that as much. Without the emails, especially, I wouldn’t have really realized just how much Julia’s parents were forcing her to be Julia’s babysitter. They gave a little extra important information.
C: I think it worked really well for the story that was being told, whereas such a technique may be juvenile or cheesy or too show-not-tell in other instances. I liked how these sections could at time seem like random snapshots that stood out from the rest of the narrative (like a separate page with a scene titled “English Class”…it seems so normal and irrelevant but at the same time separating moments like that gave them much more weight and profundity, and made them stand out to me in a way I may not have savored had I just glazed over them in the “normal” portions of the narrative (which could get quite slow at times!)
Continue reading the second half of our discussion on Lauren’s blog HERE!
Even in Paradise unfortunately did not work for me. I’ve read many contemporaries set in the WASP-y, East Coast, privileged lifestyle (especially over the summer) and so this one had a lot to live up too, especially compared to last summer’s We Were Liars. I spent most of the novel bored, had a hard time empathizing with any characters, and the twists, while a nod to The Great Gatsby, weren’t particularly shocking, nor did they make me react emotionally. While it was cool to read a retelling (or at least loose adaptation) of such a classic story, Even in Paradise clearly had too large of shoes to fill.