The Children’s Book Review | January 16, 2017
Written by Marie Marquardt
Age Range: 14-18
Paperback: 293 pages
Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin (2016)
What to Expect: Gritty Realism, Drugs, Violence, Romance
What makes for a good teen romance novel? Well, to me the key is realism: very rarely am I convinced by a novel trying to sell me an ideal lifestyle, situation, or society. Real-life relationships are messy, and nearly always involve as much heart-break as joy. What’s more, real life nearly always gets in the way of any relationship, love-at-first-sight is much less common than the slow-grown variety, and sometimes things don’t always work out. To me the best teen romance acknowledges these less than fairy-tale facts of life, and presents readers a picture of romance and relationships that ring true. The Radius of Us achieves all of this, blending a heart-wrenching portrayal of real teen relationships with striking social commentary.
It took only 90 seconds for Gretchen’s life to change forever: after being assaulted by a young and terrified Salvadorian only to watch her assailant be gunned down in the street by his fellow gang-members, Gretchen is an emotional and psychological wreck. Afraid of the world and subject to debilitating panic attacks, Gretchen struggles to know how to pick the pieces of her life back up. Phoenix, on the other hand, feels incredibly lucky with his lot in life. Having fled gang violence in El Salvador, where he and his brother were the targets of death threats, Phoenix has been taken in by a family who are fighting for his right to asylum. Phoenix’s brother has been less lucky: snatched from Phoenix’s protection the moment they crossed the border, he is now traumatized and being detained in a facility for illegal minors. Phoenix is desperately worried, but it is not until he crosses paths with Gretchen that both young people come to understand the importance of having someone to believe in, and who believes in you. Told from the alternating perspectives of these engagingly read characters, The Radius of Us is a gripping love story and commentary on racism, poverty, and violence in American society.
Not only does Marie Marquardt provide a story of gritty intensity and realism, but she also provides characters whose dialogue, actions, and troubles are all too real. This is one romance which will not sicken you with sugar-coating: for those who appreciate literature that does not patronize, this novel is well worth reading. It is, however, best saved for older readers, as it contains sex, violence, and strong language.
About the Author
MARIE MARQUARDT is a Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and author of Dream Things True. She has published articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. Marie is co-chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families, and a member of the We Need Diverse Books team. She lives in a busy household in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse, four children, a dog and a bearded dragon.
The Radius of Us, by Marie Marquardt, was reviewed by Dr. Jen Harrison. Discover more books like The Radius of Us by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Books For Teens, Homelessness & Poverty, Reality Fiction, and Romance.