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.

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Jordan

ARC Review: Lair of Dreams-Libba Bray

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cooltext1889161239 copyAfter a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?

cooltext1889171582 copy4/5 Stars

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

 READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You’re hungering for diversity. Lair of Dreams lights on class issues, politics, disability, abuse (trafficking), racial issues, eugenics, and LGBT relationships. 
  • You love historical fiction or history in general. There are so many important issues raised that you quickly become engrossed in the colloquialisms, manners, expectations. Everything is made of speakeasy lingo and the old time euphoria of the early 1900s. 
  • You’re looking for something creepy crawly and horrific. The mixture of multicultural folklore, ghosts, and governmental coverups will make your skin crawl. 
  • You adore Libba Bray. Each book is a new, wonderful surprise with multidimensional and unique characters set in intriguing places rife with crime and mystery. 

PROS:

  • Diversity galore. Early 1900s beliefs and politics couple with each character. They all have something to overcome and work through. Historical truths like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the rise of the KKK, and raids on underground LGBT clubs all find their place in this unique story. Not only do we get to see conflicts that are relevant and the United States struggles with to this day but you get the different perspectives. From the extremely religious, from the Chinese restaurant owner, from a young gay lover who wants to find his place, and a woman who is hiding from an abusive past. There’s a little bit of everything and you’ll feel for every single character. 
  • Mysteries that started to develop in book one are even more prominent. The clues are everywhere. Everything is connected. The layering is astounding. 
  • The ghosts are out of this world horrifying and totally ghastly, a cross between malicious poltergeist and zombie, between their hunger, the chilling sounds, the music box song, and the general way they skitter and widen their jaws to eat people alive, have fun trying to sleep with the lights off!
  • Evie is far from the focal point. Each character has his or her part. I loved the mix of culture and drama. Romance is on the horizon for each character. It’s messy, complicated, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, another twist is thrown in. 
  • The dreamwalker world is intensely detailed and vibrant. You can picture everything and here, the emotions are larger. Desire meets desperation and happiness goes from total ecstasy to utter devastation. It’s a rocky, bittersweet, and often scary place. 
  • Ling and Henry quickly became my favorite characters. Their situations are fueled by haunting encounters, desire, and a strong thirst for freedom from the oppressive gaze of society. Ling is unexpected. A young girl with a disability that she won’t let rule her, she pushes past the bullies and the bigots, she uses her brain and things of science, working on becoming a future famous inventor. Henry’s past is intoxicating. His life on the bayou, his romance, the strict upbringing all took me by surprise. 
  • Sam. You can never really know a person. Just when you thought that Sam was an insufferable flirt with fast hands and a tendency to rob people blind, always looking for the next con, the past comes out like a slap to the face. Suddenly Sam has all this hidden depth that you don’t quite know what to do with. His hurt, confusion, and determination all center on his missing mother. He’s got feelings, true, brutal emotions that lurk just under the surface of his carefree attitude. 

CONS:

  • There are even more character POV swaps than the last book. Though all engrossing stories with their own contributions to the plot, it can be a little overwhelming, especially in a book 600-odd pages. The constantly flip-flopping back and forth actually left way more questions than answers. 
  • It took ages for the clues to build up to the point of uncovering the truth. For a novel that is set during a time span of less than a month, it felt much longer. 

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