“They were all royalty. They were all gods. They were all broken.”
Charlotte Ryder is pretty certain about the course of her life. She has her group of friends at St. Anne’s. She has her roommate at the boarding school. Charlotte has her memory box, her studio time, and her plans to become an artist.
Charlotte never expects that she will meet the infamous Julia Buchanan when she abruptly transfers to the school at the start of their junior year. Charlotte never expects that she will become Julia’s friend.
It’s hard to ignore Julia Buchanan’s pull. Charlotte is easily absorbed into Julia’s magical world of luxury and decadence; she even finds herself drawn into the great Buchanan family with all of their spectacle and charisma.
As she becomes closer to Julia and the rest of the Buchanans, Charlotte realizes that Julia’s effervescent personality and easy smiles are part of a facade. Julia’s life–like those of her family–has been shaped by a tragedy that still haunts her. In trying to uncover Julia’s secrets, Charlotte hopes to help her friend. Instead, the truth might tear them apart in Even in Paradise (2014) by Chelsey Philpot.
Even in Paradise is Philpot’s first novel. It is a loose retelling of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh with strong undertones reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as well. Although Philpot credits both of these classics among her inspirations, Even in Paradise is also very much its own story.
Charlotte is a heroine who starts the novel on the periphery of her own life. So much of who Charlotte is, not to mention what she does, is defined by her friendship with Julia or who she is in Julia’s presence. It’s impossible to ignore the pull of Julia’s dizzying world. But it is only in gaining distance from that world that Charlotte really begins to come into her own with character development that is both fascinating and empowering.
Although this story has some adorably romantic moments (and even the hint at something more) Even in Paradise remains very firmly a story about friendship with a plot ranging from the initial moments that can tie people together right through to the moments with potential to tear them apart.
Despite any perceived pain or loss, Charlotte has no regrets when it comes to her friendship with Julia and the other events during Even in Paradise. It’s refreshing, and even a bit shocking, to see that kind of conviction in a narrator. It is powerful to see Charlotte’s introspection and acknowledgement at the end of the novel of the many people and moments that have shaped her present self.
Even in Paradise is a subtle, contemplative novel about growing up and growing apart. A story about finding yourself in the midst of feeling lost. Recommended.
Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Great by Sara Benincasa, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2014 for review consideration*