Happy Thursday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm reviewing Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot. This is an evocative, coming-of-age debut novel about one girl and her relationship with a intriguing, mysterious family.
YA contemporary/contemporary Thursday is where we review the latest and greatest contemporary titles!
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by HarperCollins more details...
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
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.
There is a certain degree of beauty in the nostalgia and heartbreak experienced by Charles Ryder through his interactions with the Marchmain family, so when I learned that Even in Paradise was “…very loosely inspired” by Brideshead, I immediately knew that I wanted to read this book.
Now that I have, I can say unreservedly that Chelsey Philpot has not only built upon the foundations of a classic novel, she's also created a hauntingly beautiful world filled with characters and struggles that makes the story stand out in its own right.
Philpot introduces us to Charlotte "Charlie" Ryder, a talented young artist who meets fellow boarding school classmate Julia Buchanan through a twist of fate. Charlie's from a lower middle-class family in New Hampshire, and it's not long before Julia's world of old money and excess begins to dazzle Charlie.
But as Charlie's friendship with Julia develops, she learns that there are cracks in the perfect Buchanan facade. Their so-called paradise isn't immune to the realities of the world, and those realities are beginning to catch up.
Philpot does a wonderful job of playing on that age-old idea of an outsider looking into a hallowed and elite world, and finding that beneath all of the artifice, there is very little to separate those who are average and the moneyed few.
While Charlotte is initially dazzled by the Buchanan wealth, she quickly learns that becoming a part of that world is not easy. Even when she's accepted into the Buchanan fold, it's with the reminder that they now trust her to be in charge of Julia's well-being.
It's a relationship with strings attached; a good metaphor for the entire world that the Buchanan family inhabits. Wealth and privilege do not always translate into a happy life, something that readers repeatedly learns alongside Charlie, as she begins to learn more and more about hre best friend and the family's past.
Ultimately, I'm confident that readers will absolutely understand why Charlie is attracted to Julia's world in the first place, and just as equally understand when Charlie begins to find fault with a seemingly once-perfect world.
Philpot's writing is beautiful throughout the book, effortlessly transporting readers from the grounds of a New England boarding school, to summer homes where anything feels possible. Readers will likely also appreciate both Philpot's nods to Brideshead - I especially liked that a certain stuffed animal reappeared in a different, but equally plush form - and the fact that the book ends on a far more optimistic note.
Things to consider:
Philpot has done a remarkable job of transforming a classic tale for a modern age, and I strongly believe that readers will develop an even stronger appreciation for Charlotte, Julia and Sebastian’s respective journeys, after acquainting themselves with the Brideshead crew.
(Plus, it's just good to read the classics!)
Through Charlie's journey with Julia and the Buchanan family, Philpot shows the dizzying heights and impossibilities of certain perceptions, but also the importance of learning how to positively reflect on those perceptions even after they're debunked, so that a person can begin to grow up and face the realities of living.
I highly recommend this book for fans of contemporary fiction, and for fans of the original Brideshead. I also recommend this for fans of Katie Cotugno, E. Lockhart and Trish Doller.
About the author:
Chelsey Philpot grew up on a farm in New Hampshire and now works as an editor and journalist. She’s written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Slate, and numerous other publications. Like her main character, Charlotte, Chelsey attended boarding school in New England. You can visit her online at www.chelseyphilpot.com or on Twitter @chelseyphilpot.