Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (November 29, 2016)
Love, passion, and friendship collide on the road trip of a lifetime in this breathtaking novel from Paullina Simons, internationally bestselling author of The Bronze Horseman and Tully.
There’s no telling where a journey will lead you…
Shelby Sloane has big plans for the summer of 1981. She’ll drive cross country in her graduation present—a classic yellow Mustang. In California, she hopes to find the mother who left her behind long ago, and then return East in time to start college. Her childhood friend Gina is desperate to reunite with her boyfriend in Bakersfield and has convinced Shelby to bring her along.
With Gina on board, Shelby’s carefully mapped-out itinerary is quickly abandoned.
Soon, so is their “no hitchhikers” rule when Shelby picks up a mysterious girl named Candy Cane, who sets them all on a new and dangerous course. Streetwise beyond her years and decked out with tattoos, piercings, and spiky hair, Candy is on the run from a past darker than anything the two suburban girls have ever known. Candy draws Shelby and Gina into her terrifying world, where life as they know it is turned upside down and there is no place left to hide.
I was a little surprised that the author's bio did not include "Lone Star", also by Ms. Simons and which I reviewed here nearly a year a go to the day. Both titles feature young people just out of high school going on adventures. In Lone Star, the young adults go to Europe, courtesy of one of their grandmothers, provided they visit extended family in Poland. In Paradise, Shelby makes a plan to look for her birth mother, who literally abandoned her years before, at the woman's last known location, in Mendocino, CA.
Then her erstwhile 'best friend' Gina decides that Shelby can give her a ride to Bakersfield to see her boyfriend, while telling her family that she is going along as company only. Rather last-minute, Shelby discovers she was volunteered to drop Gina's little sister off at their aunt's house to the south (with them on a tight budget to go west, remember). I was ever so grateful for the map included that showed their ultimate scenic route across the country.
And if things were not already screwed up enough, they pick up Candy the second time (and in a second US state) they see her. I say this because unbeknownst to them at first, Candy is on the run from her mother's boyfriend, who made *ahem* 'films' with Candy when she was way underage and sold the filth on the internet. Trouble is, Candy has an original of one of the films (which features not only sexual content, but torture and a fake 'snuff'), and takes it to her biological father (who is now a Trappist monk) for safekeeping. This girl has had one "effed up" life.
I have to point out some things about their time in Salt Lake City. I lived there with my family for 27 years, having moved there when I was 9 or 10 years of age. We were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka "Mormons"). And at least at the time, there were about half LDS and half non-Mormons, which is to say that there was 50% Mormon and 50% anti-Mormon with very very little in-between. And I cannot say if the bias in Paradise is from the author, her sources for her information about Mormons or simply part of Lena's character (someone who joined the caravan in SLC), so I don't hold that against the book. Last but not least, the name of the founder of the LDS church was Joseph Smith, not John.
However, in the interest of accuracy, since it seemed to be from personal observations of Shelby and Gina, the eagle at Eagle Gate does not stand atop to points of a downward-pointing 5-point star. It stands atop a beehive, which sits on a block where a downward-pointing 5-point star is decoration on the side of the block. (And yes, one of the bees from that hive is wedged quite firmly in my bonnet. *lol*)
A redeeming feature of the story for me was that these young ladies went through some extraordinary trials on their trip ... and without giving too much way, they were incredibly strong people. Nobody writes a coming-of-age story like Paullina Simons. This book makes some of the things I've been through in my life seem like a cake walk by comparison. And every time I read a Simons book in the future, I will be ever so glad that I am looking at coming-of-age far in the rear-view mirror!
MEET THE AUTHOR
Paullina Simons is an internationally bestselling author whose novels include Bellagrand and The Bronze Horseman was born in Leningrad in 1963. As a child she immigrated to Queens, New York, and attended colleges in Long Island. Then she moved to England and attended Essex University, before returning to America. She lives in New York with her husband and children.
Find out more about Paullina at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and HarperCollins, via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.)