the radius of us
author : marie marquardt
pages : [hardcover] 304
favorite character : phoenix
What happens when you fall in love with someone everyone seems determined to fear?
Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.
Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.
Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?
Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.
The Radius of Us is an important book and an interesting book, but not an entertaining book. By that I mean in a contemporary novel, I usually expect a more gripping plot. Unfortunately this one kept the characters at the distance and didn’t delve as deeply into its themes as I thought it might.
I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about it. That’s how I find some of my favorites. But I have to admit that contemporary has always been a hit or miss genre for me; you have to have some speculator writing, characters, and themes for me to read about life as I already know it. Usually I don’t really need someone else to tell me about the world.
But books like The Radius of Us are usually the exception, because this book presents a viewpoint I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in YA literature. The book is told in alternating points of view. Half of the book is told by Gretchen, a teen from Georgia who has a myriad of issues after experiencing something horrible, and Phoenix, a year or two older than her, having run from El Salvador to seek asylum in the US.
Honestly, I might have liked this book better if it was gold only from Phoenix’s POV. So young, having been through so much, and having to face so much more still in Georgia. I understand Gretchen as a counterpoint–a reference US readers might relate to more easily–but her character felt so flat compared to Phoenix. I rooted for him, hoped for him, felt sympathy for him–and Gretchen could only fail as a comparison.
The Radius of Us did succeed in making me determined to read more books from diverse POV, because these different experiences are so important to try to understand through literature. It discusses privilege, racism, gang activity, immigration, and more. All amazing, important themes that the writing just falls flat on supporting.