Even in Paradise
by Chelsey Philpot
Original Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Length: 368 pages
Obtained Via: Advanced Reader’s copy given by the publisher through Edelweiss. This in no way influenced my opinion of the book.
View at the Traffic light:
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.
Note: I try not to quote from Advanced Reader’s Copy too much since the quotations can change, but I felt the need for them in this review. A disclaimer that all quotes should be checked against the final copy.
The biggest compliment I can give Even in Paradise is that it reminds me of so many of my favorite classics. While reading, I kept thinking of three books, all some of my favorites: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, and The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. There story of Even in Paradise is one that felt timeless. It turns out, the author mentioned two of those three books in an interview as inspiration, and it shows in the best way.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has something they’re hiding.
Even in Paradise is the story of the wealthy Buchanan family, particularly Julia, as observed by Charlie Ryder, an outsider that soon gets roped into the family and their secrets. The Buchanan seem to mean well, but their secrets and habits weave a very tangled web for Charlie. Charlie and Julia become best friends, and Charlie is often invited along on family trips, spends time with Julia more than anyone else, and is the person the Buchanans entrust with the responsibility of “looking out” for Julia.
Julia bounces between light and dark, happy and sad. In some ways, I would say she’s almost the anti-thesis to a type of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s eccentric and she has that spark, but only when Charlie is the truth of the depth of her dark places revealed. Charlie struggles to keep up, becoming entrenched in a world she doesn’t understand.
The sorrow and grief to come is woven throughout Even in Paradise. There’s a tragedy in the past, one that Charlie learns quickly–Julia’s older sister died in a car accident some years previously, though she’s never privy to the details. However, there’s also a build-up to a future sorrow that Even in Paradise doesn’t try to hide. It tinges all the happy scenes with the feeling that things will never be quite this good for Charlie or Julia.
Had I known the heights of the joy and the depth of the hurt to come, perhaps I would have been smart. Perhaps I would have left the beach that day and taken the ferry for the safe world I had always known. . . But I have no illusions. Even knowing everything, I would have chosen the same.
It’s only in hindsight that we can point, as easily as finding a town on the map, to the moments that shaped us–the moments when choices between yeses and nos determined the people we became.
It’s hard to talk about Even in Paradise without giving anything away. It’s not that there are even “big” reveals(though there is one reveal I would classify as a “big” reveal), but that the journey of Even in Paradise is so well-written that I want to leave everyone to explore it for themselves. Getting into the Buchanan family is a special kind of spiral–both for Charlie and for the reader. For a time, Charlie seems as one of them, having connections to both Julia and her brother. In the end, though, as happens in these types of stories, the illusion falls through.
They were perfect. They were flawed. They were scarred and beautiful. They were too familiar with death and clung to life by clinging to one another. The Great Buchanan were only human, after all.
If you enjoy books like Great by Sara Benincasa(the Great Gatsby retelling), I highly recommend Even in Paradise. While not a retelling in that sense(though apparently it’s loosely inspired by Brideshead Revisited), it has many similar elements and a very similar story feel.
Even in Paradise reminded me of some of my favorite books, which is just about the highest compliment I can give a novel. With a very sort of timeless story and writing, Even in Paradise will be rolling around in my head for awhile. 5/5 cupcakes.