The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt

The Radius of Us by Marie MarquardtThe Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on January 17, 2017
Pages: 304
Goodreads |

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.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt is about as close to perfect as a novel gets for me. Like Dream Things True, Marquardt writes tough, diverse stories that radiate with courage, compassion, and empathy.

I looked really hard for sloppy diversity in her storytelling (I’ve found it in several books I’ve read just this year alone), and all I could find were three-dimensional characters who play outside of their common stereotypes in a way that makes me understand different cultures in new ways. Basically, I couldn’t find anything wrong. I suppose it’s possible to think that Gretchen is the “white girl savior” of a brown boy, but I really didn’t read it that way. Phoenix and Gretchen saved each other, and a lot of other people helped too.

The Radius of Us shines in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin. I guess let’s start with Gretchen and her panic triggers. Gretchen struggles with PTSD and a resulting panic disorder. As someone who has panic triggers, I found Gretchen’s experience authentic. You’re okay until you aren’t okay. And you’re not okay until you are okay. It’s an honest look at panic from the outside, which is especially interesting from Phoenix’s perspective because he’s never seen it in anyone else before, though he has something similar himself.

I also appreciated the care with which Marquardt treats undocumented characters in her books. She is an advocate for undocumented people in real life, and it really shines in her writing. That kind of compassion is hard to come by, and I think her books will do a lot of good in the world because of it. Phoenix doesn’t feel like a hollow character used to further an agenda. He’s a living, breathing, three-dimensional character who has flaws and hopes and dreams and feelings.

Another plus for me with this story is the sheer amount of diversity. And it didn’t feel like diversity for diversity’s sake either. Everyone from Phoenix’s lesbian guardians to the couple that owns the tattoo parlor are 100% authentic and memorable.

Verdict

I fell in love with these characters, and I think you will too. The Radius of Us is Marie Marquardt’s best book yet. She’s on my auto-buy list and should be on yours too.

five-stars

© 2017, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.