Almost Paradise

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Almost Paradise Book Poster Image
Nuns and guns color plucky kid's fast-paced survival tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Ruby Clyde recognizes words that she has learned in school by saying "Wordly Wizard!" and then gives definitions. Some of the words: "complicit," "benefactor," "hypothetical," "philosopher." She reads Oliver Twist  by Charles DIckens and mentions similarities between her situation and Oliver Twist's story. References to Bible stories and lessons.

Positive Messages

Sometimes you need to believe in what you believe in order to survive. Faith can help you get through difficult times. Be yourself despite what people say. People can be angelic. Learning to take care of yourself gives you strength.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ruby Clyde is a beacon of clarity and strength when the adults around her are unfit or chaotic. Aunt Eleanor Rose is a stern model of strength and fortitude. The women who help Ruby Clyde when she is destitute are kind, mothering, and steadfast.

Violence

For a religious-themed and otherwise squeaky-clean book, guns do play prominently. Readers learn early in the book that Ruby Clyde's father died a violent "shooting death" when her mother was pregnant with her. Catfish acquires, brandishes, and uses a gun in robberies, shooting himself in the leg. Ruby's mother is held at gunpoint by a shotgun-toting convenience store owner. Ruby Clyde has holsters and cap guns, which frighten her mother, who's still shell-shocked by her former husband's murder 12 years ago. Court, jail, and proceedings are emotionally tense.

Sex
Language

"Hell," used in context of heaven and hell. "Bull."

Consumerism

Volvo, Star Wars, Yoda.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen smokes a cigarette, which Ruby says is bad. A man working in a convenience store is drinking a beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Corabel Shofner's debut novel, Almost Paradise, is a story about a tomboy whose mother is caught up in a convenience store holdup. Ruby Clyde Henderson, age 12, celebrates her birthday in her mom's boyfriend's car. He's packed all of their things and taken them from their home somewhere in the Southeast to head to Hollywood. Guns, religion, reuniting with estranged family, and making friends with a pig make up an adventure that turns into a survival tale for a plucky 12-year-old kid. Courtroom and hospital worries plague Ruby Clyde, who finds herself fighting for her mother's release from jail, and who longs for a life of stability and comfort. There's a Christian undercurrent: Bible stories are referred to, Jesus' life is mentioned, God is talked about often, and a main character is an Episcopalian nun.

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What's the story?

Corabel Shofner's ALMOST PARADISE revolves around the life of Ruby Clyde Henderson, who sometimes passes for a boy. Ruby's a kid whose "healing hands" gain her entry to the nurse's station at school, where she learns about the profession she'd like to pursue. Only, she's not in school for the majority of this story, because her mom's boyfriend (aka Catfish) has loaded up the car and is hightailing it to Hollywood. Ruby Clyde's birthday is spent at a campsite just east of Texas. Catfish soon picks up a drifter who gets them into trouble, and Ruby acquires a pig, whom she names Bunny. Catfish has plans of gun heists and glory, which devolve into chaos and abandonment. Ruby Clyde finds herself putting her survival skills to the test, as she finds old relatives, gets closer to God, and stands up to all kinds of bullies. 

Is it any good?

Quick-paced adventure and oddball characters add spice to a story about a test of faith. Kids will like Ruby Clyde's strong voice and vision. She knows who she is and doesn't expect perfection from other people. Unsettling things happen in Almost Paradise, and Ruby Clyde deals with them. Some parents might be wary of religious undertones such as "Praise the Lord" written, without irony, on a person's cake, or references to biblical tales throughout, amid holdups and jail time.

Ruby Clyde does seem younger than her age. At 12, her focus is on noticing the vocabulary words in a sentence and caring for her pig. Readers of other young adult lit will expect more emotional depth from a girl that age. She's piecing out the puzzle of her chaotic life, but she depends on platitudes like "love in pieces." She doesn't have friends her age for the majority of the story, and doesn't long much for them. Simply put, she doesn't seem to feel the anguish and complexities kids that age feel. And this might not be her fault, as the author tends to make quick work of conclusions that are told and not shown. Readers are told that Ruby feels comfortable at her aunt's ranch, that she feels more at home here than before -- but how did she feel "before"? A lawyer takes complete and utter care of her family, just because. She loves her aunt deeply after a week of having met her. Some of this is not credible, given what she's been through. But does it matter? Does Ruby Clyde endear her audience with her plucky voice and her Christian faith? She very well might, though readers of this age group may ultimately expect more dimension from a character this quirky.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how guns are used in Almost Paradise.  Are they used as weapons? As self-defense? As measures of power? What do you notice when movie posters or television series show guns? How do you feel when you see them?

  • Ruby Clyde passes as a boy for part of this book, and she uses the name Clyde to fool truck drivers into thinking she's a boy. Why does she do this? How are other females portrayed in the book? As masculine? As feminine?

  • Disguise is used often in the story. Ruby wears a dress so she won't be recognized. The nun's wimple is employed as a distraction. When do you disguise yourself? Do you use online identities that are different from who you really are? When are disguises helpful? When are they deceptive?

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