Novel: Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot | Goodreads
Release Date: October 14, 2014
When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne’s at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about the former senator’s daughter. Most people do… or think they do.
Charlotte certainly never expects she’ll be Julia’s friend. But almost immediately, she is drawn 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 her self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, Charlotte soon realizes that Julia is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden… until now.
I’ll admit, this book took me by surprise. I was expecting beach read with a punch, but it was much more subtle – and winning – than that. Actually, it reminded me a good amount of Second Star by Alyssa B. Scheinmel, which had the same poetic flow and magical characters.
This is not an airbrushed book. The characters are enigmatic, yes, and compelling, but their flaws are broadcast clearly and in a way that makes them endearingly human. That combination is that of many of my favorite books – Dreamland Social Club, The Beginning of Everything, The Probability of Miracles – and definitely contributed to how quickly I connected to the book.
The book basically begins when Charlie ditches all her friends for Julia. Now, she understood that it was wrong and that she was ignoring the girls she’d been close with for years, but something about Julia’s personality attracted her. Immediately, the girls are paired at the hip.
As Charlie becomes closer with Julia, she becomes closer with the family, the Great Buchanans. With a father as a senator, they’re a family in the spotlight, but are surprisingly down-to-earth at their beach house. From flirty Bradley to the heart-throbbing Sebastian (I swear it’s not a love triangle – they’re just personality traits) to adorable Cordelia, she quickly adores all of Julia’s siblings, except for the one they rarely talk about: Gus.
Julia’s flighty older sister died in a car crash a few years earlier with her boyfriend, with Julia in the car. Gus was larger-than-life and Julia doesn’t mention it much, except to drag Charlie to explore the school in search of mementos. Her family designates Charlie as a protector, Charlie as the girl to keep Julia in check, but doesn’t realize how quickly Julia’s disintegrating until Charlie can’t keep her going.
There are so many points in the story where the narrative could have veered so far into cliche, and didn’t. It was admirable to see, how Philpot avoided the easy way out but still crafted a relatable, mapped-out plot. Honestly, there were a few parts that were predictable but they were done in such a likable way that I really didn’t care. It’s a story that’s been seen before, repackaged in a fresh fashion.
I loved the New England feel of the book. Although I’m a Florida girl and much more accustomed to the sunny style of most beach reads, I love the crisp atmosphere of beach reads that take place in a more northern locale. From boarding school to the lighthouse they made wishes on, everything about the setting felt accessible and dreamy, rooted in small details that gave insight into the characters.
Charlie was a girl who had a voice. She was an artist, a scholarship student, but she didn’t follow the immediate simpering style of most who hung out with Julia. She honestly didn’t understand how it happened, but didn’t have the deer-in-the-headlights of most YA characters in similar situations. Instead, she had a cool disposition that was still excitable. She was simple and I immediately adored her. Throughout the book, she developed but still maintained the core aspects of her personality that drew the Buchanans to her: a keen observation of everything that happened around her. She was seduced by Julia’s glittering world, but didn’t worship her, and that’s the distinction that made me sink into the book more. (Their friendship was actually wonderful to read about.)
It’s wistful, and bursting with excitement. It has both a poised feel and an energetic one – the type of feeling that made me finish it in one setting and feel my heart beating quickly for long after it was over. The lovely phrases Philpot uses throughout the books – with a knack for understanding where to pull it out to big-picture musings – make it both soft and exhilarating.
The flow of the book is marvelous. It has a story-like feel, very conversational, in the pacing. Charlie quickly recaps months at a time, but it never feels like too much. Yes, the narrative is moment-based but each one is developed into a full scene that link together well. The pacing encompasses over a year in 300+ pages and follows characters so thoroughly that we’re given both open endings and a smart feel of where everyone ended up. Philpot was spot-on with the timing of it all. The formatting is brilliant as well. There are headings that make it feel like a diary entry, with snippets of conversations and even the occasional email to spice it up.
There’s an intoxicating mix of happiness and sadness in this book – the desire for the familiar and the desire to strike out. The family is both tangled and wonderful. They love each other, but have issues. The friendships and relationships are heartwarming and precious, but are also tainted by time passing and by things like growing apart, letting go of innocence, growing-of-age type events that I really wasn’t expecting to encounter. There’s a thoughtful balance between the plodding, reflective events Charlie endured in her senior year as well as a punctuated plot to lend it a bit of thrill.
This book has character. There’s Latin and French in it, references rooted in the teen-girl, lighthearted feel of a beach read. It’s been hailed as the new The Great Gatsby – but I’ll be honest in saying that I like Philpot’s version much more. It’s circular, but never repetitive or too predictable. I appreciated the deviations from the standard plotlines; I wholeheartedly agreed with her narrative choices but loved that she retained the same mystery, drama, tragedy contained in the books that inspired the story.
This book is dynamite.