Review: Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

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synLove is more than meets the eye.

On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a sweet but shy girl named Cecily. And despite his fear that having a girlfriend will make him inherently dependent on someone sighted, the two of them grow closer and closer. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty—in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

review

3.5/5 Stars

Love and First Sight is an adorable and profound look at perception, the way we see the world, and what happens when someone who has never been able to see does for the first time. 

There’s a lot going on in this book but something I LOVED was the idea of beauty and how it starts beneath the surface. The main character, Will, is blind. He has never seen anything from birth, not even darkness. He has no perceptions, no stereotypes, nothing to work with because he has never seen it. Sure, he can know what something is, like a triangle or an apple, but he can’t envision it. What’s so compelling about this story is the many thought-provoking and inspired conversations on what it means to be beautiful and whether or not it matters if your physical appears fits the general construct and stereotypes of what beauty should be. Will has no basis. This is fascinating. His version of beauty is soul-deep and has to do with a number of components, the sound of someone’s voice, the feel of their skin, the way they treat others. He says that physical beauty, whether it’s there or not doesn’t matter. If only the world thought this way.

There are two sides of blindness, well three if you want to get philosophical. Blindness in terms of the everyday stereotypes and treatment towards blind people-they way people assume they need help, want it, or are helpless in general. Even the small things like they all wear sunglasses or like to be pulled along. Things that the average person probably would not think about. The small part of me that enjoys science was intrigued and downright astounded by the research poured into this book. It discusses how the brain develops, which parts are used for each sense, and how disuse of one can affect the others.  Will has the opportunity to received life-changing surgery that could give him sight. Learning, adjusting to vision is startling. Everything that goes with it, from depth perception to colors to shapes. How do you focus when there are so many elements and when you have never learned how? Each step is connected with blindness and learning through that earlier condition to finally see. We take sight for granted. It never occurs to us that it’s amazing that we can look at so many things at once and recognize them as distinct from each other. For a blind person learning to see, this seems impossible and the brain needs to be trained to cope with the explosion of sensory overload. After I read this, I really thought about placement, perspective, and the incredible power of the human eye to define. 

I’m hesitant to call this a romance because it felt underdeveloped and rushed. What I felt more than anything was a genuine and powerful friendship. There wasn’t really room for anything else on top of all the other stuff going on. The was a point in the story where feelings are confessed and I was stunned. Not that they were there at all but that it was sudden and without enough time to build on the romantic elements. The whole time nothing but friendship, respect, and adoration, with hints of romance. 

Secondary characters were, for the most part, barely there. Even when they were there, it was small snippets that suggested overall personality, but even when there was space in the story to expand and cement these characters in the story, it was a whole bunch of telling. They go on a road trip. I cannot think of a more perfect time to get to know secondary characters than on car ride, cross-country, that days a number of days. And yet, this whole section was in the span of a handful of pages.  

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Thoughtful reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

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syn

Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via FirstToRead & Penguin Teen

+++This book does contain mature situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens

PROS:

  • Some parts are gloriously awkward in the way that only first love can be. Others are a question, a struggle to define, and a learning process of how to understand and share intimacy in the many ways it presents itself. There are all aspects of love in this book and often it evolves, transforms, and rebuilds after loss, tragedy, and heartache. Sometimes the love you thought you wanted is nothing like you imagined. Sometimes love has a time and place and no matter how hard you fight for it, it’s a losing battle. Cringe-worthy, provocative, and eye-opening. 
  • Sex positivity. Girls that are comfortable with their bodies, their passion, and willingness to express themselves sexually. Sure, there’s judgment from others but this expression of love is seen as natural and necessary.
  • There are a number of beautifully lyrical and blunt truths that feel like revelation. Perceptions on love and what it means to be in love, to be loved, and to give love shift within the story and as the main character goes through each phase, we experience it right along with her. The confusion, the hurt, the yearning is all there in full force. This is also an ode to loss and the many ways we deal with the empty after. 
  • The premise itself is interesting, though I would hesitate to call it magical realism like many other readers and reviewers have. There’s enough belief in the curse to influence every aspect of the people’s lives who live on this street. That strength in belief is its own form of magic and carries incredible power. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and a little unsettling. The lemons, the windows being left open, it was all fairly ritualistic and earthy. In my Goodreads status updates I tried to encompass the feeling of this book through comparatives: 
    February 17, 2017 – page 75

     

    26.04% “Still undecided. It kind of reminds me of The Graces meets Tell Me Something Real and then there’s little Practical Magic meets The Sun Also Rises. If you think that sounds interesting, check it out. Still not sold though.”

     
    February 17, 2017 – page 25

     

    8.68% “So far I don’t know how to feel about this book. It feel like it’s set in the 70s or 80s, it’s super literary, and thoughtful. While there are things in here that suggest alternate history and local mythology, I’m not sure I want to read more.”

CONS:

  • The pacing. For a story so interesting and poignant, it’s one of the slowest I’ve ever read. And insanely short. For so much story it felt unfinished. It lacked development that could have made the ideas and atmosphere stronger.
  • I didn’t really care for any of the characters. While there were unique and I appreciated what they were going through, I struggled to leave my post of indifference. I pushed my way through the story hoping to feel for the characters, but my heart was with the words, the ideas, not the individuals living it. 
  • The ending. So much happens in those last few pages and it’s certainly jarring but left things feeling unresolved and random. It didn’t add up. It felt rushed, incomplete, and did not fit with the rest of the book. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan

 

Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

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synA YA debut about a teen girl who wrestles with rumors, reputation, and her relationships with two brothers.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing.

But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.

The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

review2.5/5 Stars 

+++Potential triggers for sexual assault, tragic loss

***Contains mature content

After the Fall feels like a draft. It takes several directions and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The story is split into two parts, the before and the after-though the before is such a short duration that it’s like an underdeveloped Polaroid, a glimpse with huge, life-altering emotional development that there is no time to explore. And while that may be the point of the plot, a little more would have made the loss more potent. 

There are so many important discussions in this story-discussions that so many teens and adults could benefit from in regard to sexual assault and how it’s defined. Like the fact that if at any point during a sexual encounter you change your mind and the yes is now a no, you can take away your consent and the other individual should respect that. That’s not leading someone on, you have control of your body, you have agency, and you are the ONLY one who can give and take away permission to access what is yours. This includes ALL forms of sex. These discussions are between teenagers in the book and wise adults who approach the subject with respect, compassion, and righteous anger. Having these talks between adults and teens and with variety through the story was both thought-provoking and comforting. Sometimes knowing whether an encounter is assault or not can be hazy because of popular perceptions and how we view sex as a society. This book does a fantastic job both bringing up the subject and the commentary that follows. There is also commentary on prejudice and racial jokes, derogatory remarks, and gender roles. 

All of the characters were flawed and complex. While I normally enjoy the broken, confused, and wayward because generally these are coming of age stories and characters are going through a ton of stuff, these characters weren’t exactly likeable. They were self-righteous, blinded by their ideas, bull-headed, self-absorbed, and for the most part, didn’t have much of any redeeming qualities. Matt was a “poor me” character and some of the stuff he said was chauvinistic and demeaning and so near-sighted. How he could be a potential love interest was perplexing. Raychel is a mess. While it’s cool that she makes mistakes and embraces her sexuality, she’s not exactly a role model and doesn’t really learn anything. There’s no big resolution, it’s a cut off, hopefully things will be better in college situation. Does there necessarily have to be a moral to every story? No. But should the characters grow? Yes. 

The romance itself was short, fast, and development could have been stronger to build up to the tragedy. I would have liked to have seen more of them together, rather than the reference back to a time they had that the reader never saw. It felt like a summary and I wanted imagery. The emotions, the romantic ones at least, were muted because there weren’t enough scenes to reinforce the feelings. 

Secondary characters were in and out and there were so many of them that they didn’t make much of an impression, even if they were diverse and interesting, they didn’t have enough space. The book could have been longer, definitely, just to build on these smaller relationships. So much of the focus is one Matt and Raychel, that when anything happens to any of the other characters, it feels miniscule by comparison. 

The book was enjoyable to read because in some weird way, you wanted to see who Raychel ended up with. 

Side note: I also went on a tangent recently about this misleading synopsis.The way it’s initially worded makes you think this will be a romance or even a comedy. There’s a serious suggestion of dating two brothers, but this is not a romance, not really. This is a full-fledged drama and exploration of loss. I was thrown. After reading the synopsis, you go into the book with expectations and what the book really was felt like a stretch. 

If you like any of the following, you might enjoy this:

Introspective reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

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Release Dare: February 7, 2017

syn

In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

PROS:

  • There was so much to learn from this book. Mental health isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it should be. There’s a complex system of animals Mel uses to illustrate her moods/how she’s feeling, which you might want to write down for reference throughout, because it is a little hard and confusing to keep track of. As far as I know (I’m not an expert), this is a poignant and realistic portrayal of the mental and physical highs and lows experienced by someone who is bipolar. It was an awakening for me as a reader, because I haven’t read many books with this mental illness. It brought keen insight into the disorder and how the individual’s thinking and feeling change, how they react, and the medicine cabinet full of medication that some who suffer from this disorder live with everyday. I think a big part of this story was trying to show how normal mental illness can appear to an outsider or someone who doesn’t know. There was a bunch of terminology I had no clue about and I was pretty startled by the idea of subintentional suicide; I’d never heard of that before. Generally when we think of people who make dangerous choices it’s in a oh, what a daredevil kind of way, but this was truly eye-opening for me, and in connection to bipolar disorder. I am still reeling. 
  • I adored HJ (Hurricane Joan). She’s this feisty, sassy aunt, who like Mel, has bipolar disorder. She’s super fun and full of energy, and while she does have her down times, she has such a strong presence. 
  • Mel was an intriguing character. She wasn’t particularly interesting, but she was compassionate, giving, a genuinely good person. Her emotions were a dizzying spiral of highs and lows, ups and downs, and very raw, honest. Her confusion and fear are clear, even if she doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does or how she’s going to react. Mel is trying to cope with her disorder, not beat it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Mel believes she can be like a “normal” person and that in order to do so, she needs to lie. Why Mel insists on all the lies is revealed in time, but it doesn’t always feel like it was necessary. 
  • Mel and David are cute together. They’re blunt and challenge each other. He is the only one that she is completely truthful with and where she can be the most herself. They’re funny, playful, and have an easy way with each other that feels meant to be.

CONS:

  • A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is split into flashbacks and current events. There are two storylines, one regarding the time before diagnosis and another after. These stories mix and mingle with each other and I wasn’t entirely sold on how it was set up. They way these two narratives were presented made the pacing feel staggered. You feel like you wait forever to things that are alluded to from the very beginning-like why her friendship with Zumi and Conner is on the outs. The whole book you wait for this reveal and it’s built up so much that you expect it to be something world-shattering and terrible, and while it is a betrayal, when you know the reasons why, it’s like, oh, shrug. Other reveals, like what happened to her brother and the mystery about her name, were a little frustrating, but once you understand that they took so long to get to because Mel couldn’t safely, emotionally process them, it’s okay. 
  • All of the characters except for David and Mel and HJ and most of the elderly people-let me fix this, most of the teen characters were antisocial, withdrawn, and even with the flashbacks, didn’t have much personality. The connection between them and Mel was supposedly so strong that it emotionally paralyzes her to think about it, and yet, that feeling does not carry through the book, it’s more talked about than actually illustrated. Most of the story, I questioned why Mel even cared that these people were no longer in her life, she had replacements in the form of Holly and Declan, who were similar enough to the original friends that they were kind of forgettable. Had there been more interaction with ANY of these friends, a stronger establishment between characters would have been made and it would have been easier to become emotionally invested. Again, I think this had a lot to do with how the book was organized. 
  • I wish there had been more flashbacks to Mel and her brother. I felt like the focus was skewed. So much emphasis was placed on the loss of these friends she made after her brother’s death, when his loss is the root of so much of her hurt. 

SIDE NOTE: I would not compare this to All the Bright Places in terms of writing style, but thematically, sure. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Informative reading, 

Jordan

dreadnought

ARC Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

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“The shelter of boyhood ended, and they called me a young man. For no reason at all, they looked at the things that felt right to me, and they took them.

Even down to the way I carry my books and cross my legs. They took it. They took everything. Puberty came, and my body turned on me, too. Watching every part of myself I liked rot away one day at a time, the horrified impostor staring back at me. Watching the other girls, the ones who they let be girls, head in the other direction.

Every day, torn away further from myself, chained down tighter. Suffocated. Strangled.

They’ll make a man of me. Show me how to be a man. Teach me to man up by beating me down.

They never ask if I want to be a man.”

syn

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

review4 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Diversion Books

+++Potential triggers: violence, verbal abuse

With a classic superhero fix that would do Marvel proud and a protagonist that speaks from the heart, Dreadnought is the book you didn’t know your soul needed, but it answered just the same. 

Sometimes the world is a bleak and terrifying place and so much seems hopeless. All we can do is fight through the darkness and stand strong in our convictions. Dreadnought is that quintessential story. The world can be a cruel place for those who are different and humanity can leave a lot to be desired. Dreadnought is a story of strength, hope, and perseverance, of embracing what you know in your heart and not letting anyone tell you different, despite the adversity and fear. 

Danny (Danielle) Tozer has lived her life in a body she feels betrayed her. I’ve never had such a keen insight into a character and their emotions. Danny’s story reflects the boxes that our sex puts us in, the way that society pushes and crafts each child into perceived ideas of masculinity and femininity. Danny has always known she was female, despite being anatomically male. She talks about how she gradually was pushed out of a circle of girls that she was friends with, how she was pushed into sports, and what she was expected to act like to assume the role of a male. My heart broke a little more with each loss, because that’s what they are deaths. It didn’t matter if Danny wanted to hold her books is a “girly” way, she was criticized for being too feminine and forced to adjust even the smallest of her mannerisms for fear of reprimand, even if part of her was dying inside with each small defeat. It’s eye-opening. How many times are people dismissive? How many times do people say, what’s the big deal, it’s a choice, what’s it matter, just hold your books differently? When you’re hit with Danny’s emotions and how it’s slowly killing her inside to relinquish even the tiniest bit of herself to satisfy society’s need to dichotomize, it cuts deeply. It’s powerful and insightful and will make you see the world differently. A transgender superhero. This makes my heart happy.

Dangerous forms of masculinity and femininity are summarized in Danny’s parents. I felt sick and disgusted by the way Danny’s father treats her and the way her mother cowers. The verbal abuse is gut-wrenching. There are all sorts of abuse and words can be just as painful and damaging as physical blows. I felt rage and hatred, and so sad for Danny. All she wants is to be accepted for who she is and the people who are supposed to love her unconditionally cast her aside. 

Throw in randomly gaining a superhero mantle on top of all this emotional turmoil. Obviously the adrenaline and emotions are high. The Legion is full of a diverse cast of superheroes that are both memorable, occasionally prejudiced, and super interesting. 

Calamity. I LOVE HER. She’s a little clichéd, but that’s her schtick. She’s funny, reckless, smart, and daring. The way she accepts Danny right off the bat and befriends her is sort of serendipitous and heartwarming. 

That being said, the world building was iffy. There were details just thrown in as explanation. Things weren’t clearly defined. They were more broad than anything. 

Utopia’s plan for domination is creative and she’s complex as a villain. However, all of these plot points were piled on at once and a little much. There’s not much spacing. The reveal too was so in your face that it didn’t pack the punch it could have. Some of the action scenes were too step-by-step and lasted an abnormally long time. Not in the sense that they dragged, because the description was epic, but you kind of wanted them to hurry up so we could get to the next catastrophe. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Thrilling reading, 

Jordan

Review: Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez

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From the backyards of suburban Florida to the parched desert of New Mexico, Because of the Sun explores the complexity of family, the saving grace of friendship, and the healing that can begin when the truth is brought to light.

Dani Falls learned to tolerate her existence in suburban Florida with her brash and seemingly unloving mother by embracing the philosophy Why care? It will only hurt. So when her mother is killed in a sudden and violent manner, Dani goes into an even deeper protection mode, total numbness. It’s the only way she can go on.

But when Dani chooses The Stranger by Albert Camus as summer reading for school, it feels like fate. The main character’s alienation after his mother’s death mirrors her own.

Dani’s life is thrown into further turmoil when she is sent to New Mexico to live with an aunt she never knew she had. The awkwardness between them is palpable. To escape, Dani takes long walks in the merciless heat. One day, she meets Paulo, who understands how much Dani is hurting. Although she is hesitant at first, a mutual trust and affection develop between Dani and Paulo, and Dani begins to heal. And as she and her aunt begin to connect, Dani learns about her mother’s past. Forgiving isn’t easy, but maybe it’s the only way to move forward.

review

3/5 Stars

+++Potential triggers for abuse, violence, death

This book is weird. 

This is probably one of the most bizarre and strange interpretations of loss I’ve ever encountered. It’s weird in a way that makes you uncomfortable and raise your eyebrows straight into your hairline. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more awkward character. Dani is perplexing, puzzling, and you kind of can’t look away from the mess. 

The story is unexpected and surreal. It’s something that could happen, sure, but the odds…slim. This reads like an out of body experience. Dani is disconnected, so lost in her thoughts that it’s borderline hallucinogenic. Add her aloof nature, disconnect with her emotions, and the fact that she believes a bear is stalking her. The whole thing is all sorts of trippy. 

For most of the book, Dani mirrors the main character from Albert Camus’ The Stranger. P.S., if you haven’t read The Stranger and you plan on it, this book totally destroys the ending. I wish the main character would have said spoiler alert or something because once you see it, you can’t forget. She’s trying to process her mother’s death but is so far removed that she wanders around, out of touch with reality. What’s so important and different about this book is that it deals with a kind of loss that isn’t really talked about-how to deal with the death of someone you strongly disliked or even hated.

Dani’s relationship with her mother is complex. She harbors a ton of resentment, doubt, self loathing, and hatred towards her mother. Dani’s mother was verbally abusive, she made her feel small, like she was useless, a burden, and even her existence annoyed her mother. How do you feel when the person who made you feel that way dies in a horrific way? And if that person is your mother? No matter how much negativity Dani felt, she was still her mother. Dani struggles to sort through her feelings. The guilt of feeling a kind of relief that she’s gone, the loss, the anger, the things she never got to say. All of these chaotic thoughts and emotions plague her to the point that functioning like a normal person is almost impossible. This was eye-opening. So many times we see positive relationships between the protagonist and the person they lost, this was something else. 

Not much happens in the story. Dani is just trying to flail through life. No purpose, just time passing. Disconnected. Then there’s a random switch in POV that is enlightening and jarring. We get to see how Dani’s mom became the vile, but misunderstood woman she was. Nothing is ever what it seems. There’s so much we don’t know about our parents. 

There’s a subtle layer of commentary on perception of Mexican Americans, of people who live near the border, and the kind of prejudice they face. That was poignant, but subtle. 

The romance was…I mean…it wasn’t sexy, there wasn’t a bunch of tension or even chemistry. It was a choice and I liked that a lot. It’s way different and more refreshing than the constant instalove-even if that element is there to an extent. They listen to each other, the become friends, they help each other cope, and the make the decision to be something more. 

Pacing is slow. Dani isn’t exactly likable and she knows it. She makes herself that way. For much of the book, it’s hard to like her, but she’ll grow on you. If you’re looking for something odd and like contemporary, I’d try this one on for size.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Interesting reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt

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Release Date: Jan 17, 2017

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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.

review

5/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & St. Martin’s Griffin

Do you ever so thoroughly enjoy yourself that you get lost, completely consumed in the moment, and forget everything else in the world? In that period of time, nothing else matters, it’s just you and that utter bliss that is safety, warmth, and contentment. This is that feeling in book form. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a joyful reading experience. This story is beautiful and heartbreaking and reaches into the depths of your soul and asks you to open your eyes, to truly see people past their surface value. There is so much, so many moments that will leave you feeling so full of love and like you can float away on a cloud. At the same time, there’s this crushing sense of dark reality and despair. What Phoenix and Ari went through…it’s enough to break anyone and yet, it’s a reality for so many people in this world. It’s not okay. This will be an experience for some readers, one of learning and opening up to the world around you. Sometimes there is so much bad in the world that it’s easy to forget about the good, but always, even when the odds are slim, there is hope. 

The Radius of Us deals with so many current issues-gang violence, asylum seekers, immigration, PTSD, racial issues, and how the system treats people from specific countries. There’s a mix of court proceedings that give you a broad, but poignant picture of detention centers, how people who show up at the border are treated, the agony and fear when they separate adults from their little ones, the role of parole officers, and how much money it costs to fight for your safety. There’s also a little about the groups that advocate for asylum seekers from countries that are considered high risk. Sometimes we live our lives in a bubble and we become so wrapped up that we forget about what others go through, how they have to fight for the right to live peacefully, safely. This reality hits and it hits hard. 

Gang violence plays a key role in this story. It’s terrifying and brutal. It’s not especially graphic. There are short, abrupt, and blunt scenes that suggest enough without the gore and others that will leave you feeling shaken and sickened. How gangs work, their conditioning processes, what membership means, and what you must suffer to get out are here in brief, but it’s totally enough to understand without getting too specific. From El Salvador to Guatemala to Mexico, each system is different and come with threats.

This book is fantastically diverse in the best way. It calls the characters and the reader out on their perceptions and prejudices. It many ways, it crushes stereotypes. 

Love is a major theme. What love can inspire, how it can keep you holding on when everything falls apart and dares you to hope; it gives you something to live for, just knowing other people want you around is enough to move mountains. There are all forms of love in this story: love between siblings, between relatives, strangers, friends. So much love it leaves you breathless and keyed up. Happy.

Secondary characters. Many times they fade out or fall flat but these characters, you will love them in their own right. They’re memorable, unique, full of life, laughter, heart, and compassion. I loved Bo and Barbie. I mean a tattooed biker couple helping ex-cons remove tattoos from their past. Just wow. They’re gruff and funny and just wonderful characters. So are Phoenix’s guardians. An elderly lesbian couple so in love and with so much to give to a complete stranger. Seriously this story will restore your faith in humanity. 

PTSD comes in all shapes and sizes. Trauma can cause all sorts of debilitating side effects and take over the victim’s life. Ari and Gretchen both suffer different forms. The portrayal of each is so raw, so real, you feel every ounce of panic, fear, and memory.

Ari and Phoenix. I didn’t realize it, but I’ve been dreaming of a story with a strong sibling bond. This story delivers. Phoenix risks everything, literally his life several times for his brother’s safety, to protect him from gang recruitment and all the pain he went through as a kid forced to join. I mean months through Central America in horrific conditions. Death, violence, and evil all around them. Phoenix tried to protect his brother the best he could, nothing mattered but getting him out, even if Phoenix died in the process. That kind of love, that’s something unbreakable. This alone will make you fall for Phoenix. He’s selfless, compassionate, and loves fiercely. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do. The scenes of Ari and Phoenix together are bittersweet. There are laughs, but there are also tears, seeing Ari the way he is, so traumatized he’s unable to speak. I mean it kills him. I think my heart broke a hundred times in as many pages. 

Gretchen’s story also has to do with gang violence. Her whole life was altered by one moment. Everything she used to be was gone, obliterated by an act of violence that made her scared, that left her with memories that crushed her and caused her to fold in on herself and sacrifice a normal life. And yet, Gretchen offers comfort and kindness to everyone she meets. She gives so much of herself without realizing it. What she does for Phoenix with barely a thought-she’s a genuinely good person. 

Phoenix’s story. I’m struggling to find the words for that kind of hardship and sadness. Sometimes there are only two choices and both are bad. Sometimes your surroundings shape your future and you have no choice but to become something dark to save the light in your life-in this case Ari and his grandmother. Phoenix’s past haunts him. He feels guilty. Like he’s a terrible person despite all the good. He has no kindness for himself, only regret and it’s like being suckerpunched in the heart. 

Gretchen and Phoenix. While I wasn’t exactly happy about how and why they met-because wow that is not okay but it is addressed in the story-they’re perfect for each other. They soothe and comfort, they complete one another. They’re in sync. Their radius is the same. There’s chemistry and resistance and such heated tension. You might want to throw the book waiting for them to happen. 

I honestly could go on forever about the merits and awesomeness that is The Radius of Us but this is probably the longest review I’ve ever written. Just do yourself a favor. Read this. Give it as a gift. It’s worth every minute. 

author

Marie Marquardt is an author of young adult novels, a college professor, and an immigration advocate. Her debut novel, Dream Things True (St. Martin’s Press), was a 2015 YA BEA Buzz Panel choice praised in Kirkus as a “worthy examination of undocumented immigration in the American South through the lens of young love.” Her second novel, THE RADIUS OF US, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in January 2017. Uplifting and hopeful, THE RADIUS OF US reflects the experience of Latin American teenagers fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum in the United States and the possibilities for change. It’s an issue that Marie Marquardt cares about profoundly, and she believes that connecting to it emotionally it can be a powerful antidote to the hate, fear, and misunderstanding that plagues our society.

“When I speak to groups about immigration and the need for immigration reform, I can offer clear, rational explanations and data on why our immigration system needs to be repaired,” Marquardt says. “But they only begin to care when they meet and get to know someone who is stuck in between. Writing a fictional (but very real) story brings readers into intimate, personal engagement with a messy, complicated, political situation.”

Dr. Marquardt is a Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and has been an advocate for social justice for Latin American immigrants in the South for two decades. She has published many articles and co-authored two non-fiction books on the issues involved and has been interviewed on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and BBC America, among many other media outlets. She is also the co-chair of El Refugio, a Georgia non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families.

Marie Marquardt is a proud member of the We Need Diverse Books team and lives in a busy household in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse, four children, a dog and a bearded dragon.

For more information, visit: http://www.mariemarquardt.com http://candler.emory.edu/faculty/profiles/marquardt-marie.html

Follow her on Twitter: @MarieFMarquardt

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mariemarquardtauthor.

If you like any of the following (really if you like any book in the world, really) you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan