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.
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The story begins with Gretchen, a girl who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after she was assaulted. Through her eyes, we see the very real challenges that PTSD poses, to both Gretchen and her loved ones. She sees the man who assaulted her wherever she goes, and despite all the love and understanding she receives from her family, each day is a different battle.
Early on, we also meet Phoenix, a boy with his own very real issues. Phoenix is a young boy, who recently escaped El Salvador and the gang violence that threatened his life as well as his brother's. Since he was young, he has known nothing but fear when it comes to the gangs who terrorized his neighborhood. When they threaten something more precious than his own life, he made the choice to escape and come to the US illegally. Here he finds safety, kindness, but also judgement... and eventually, Gretchen.
I can't properly put into words how much I adored these two together. Their friendship was so pure, and their understanding of each other was effortless- they were a perfect match. Through them, we were able to see how acceptance and kindness can truly change another's life. The way their relationship evolved throughout the book kept me so invested through the entire thing and I just was constantly smiling at how adorable they were together!
Overall, I found this to be a refreshing and sweet book. It is not often when I read a book that paints undocumented people in this light: as humans who love and deserve as much compassion as anyone else. It also isn't often when you see a book that correctly portrays PTSD without making the character's entire story revolve around it- Gretchen was much more than her illness. Add on a sweet romance, great secondary characters, and an unpredictable, but satisfying ending and The Radius Of Us will definitely be a favorite of 2017.