Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book Review: The Radius of Us, by Marie Marquandt

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

"And then what happened? The toffee sticks to my teeth, almost forcing my mouth shut, so I can’t tell this nice woman how I felt that night. How I walked to my car, on legs exhausted from a double shift at the restaurant. How I went alone through the dark August night. How humid the air felt - so humid that its heaviness pressed down on my bare shoulders. I didn't want to stop to get my mother half-and-half. I didn't want the smell of fried chicken clinging to my scalp...I do not want to tell this nice woman how I was halfway to my car, the only car left parked against the curb. I don't want to tell Karen how I had been late to work twelve hours earlier, how I had barely squeezed my economy car into the only remaining spot on this now-abandoned street. I do not want to tell her how I heard him first, his feet pounding, and how I turned to see him running toward me, with crazed eyes. How my legs launched into a run, trying to close the distance to my car. I didn't see his body when it slammed against my back. I only felt it, hurling us both to the ground. And then he pressed my face against the cracked sidewalk and wrenched my hands above my head. I felt his knee in my back, smelled his stale breath, warm against my cheek. He dug his hand into my pockets, and I freaked. I felt his hand near my crotch, and I knew he would try to pull my pants off. I bit his arm and he flinched. My red lipstick smeared across his forearm. I saw it there, part of me on him. That's when I tried to break free. I flipped my body over and struggled to stand. He punched me in the gut. I was on the ground, lying on my side, folded over myself. He kicked me, maybe twice, until I was flat on my stomach. Then he dug through my pockets. 

"Please don't hurt me," I heard myself beg quietly, over and over. I think what I really wanted to say was, Oh please, God, don’t rape me. Please don’t. He was on top of me again, holding me down with his body while his hands roved. I could see his face, his smooth skin and his wide brown eyes. I couldn't look away, because his eyes looked terrified. They looked as scared as I felt. "Be still," he said. "Don't make me hurt you." I squirmed, feeling his hands there. "I don't want to hurt you, I need money." Could that be true? I wished I'd had a purse so he could just take it and go, but my money was shoved into my front pockets. Tips - ones and fives, split with the wait staff. He pulled my phone from my pocket and threw it aside. He found the cash and pulled me to my feet. "Leave," he said, "Run!" And then he was gone. Just like that. I watched him sprint away, a wad of my money in his hand. He told me to run. Why did he tell me to run? I could not run. Everything hurt. I wasn't even sure I could stay on my feet. I reached for my phone..."He came up to you and what happened, Gretchen?" Karen asks. "He took my money," I say. "I had cash in my pocket - tips - he took them out and ran away. That's all" A lie. I lie to my mom, staring out the window. I lie to my dad, gripping my knee. I lie to the nice prosecutor, Karen, and to myself. I lie because there's more. This isn't even the most disturbing part, the part I've forbidden myself to think about or acknowledge. The part I can’t tell myself. 

This book is told from alternating points of view: Gretchen, an 18-year-old American girl from Georgia who experienced ‘an incident’ as it was referred to by her in the story; and Phoenix, a 19-year-old asylum seeker from El Salvador, currently living in Georgia with a sponsor family. Right off the bat, I was enjoying this book. The flow was an easy pace and I liked Gretchen. While she seemed to have something that troubled her caused by the incident, she still seemed like she was trying to get her life back together and was a smart and fun character. And Phoenix seemed like a good person trying to escape gang life in El Salvador and make a better life for him and his little brother in America.

Official synopsis:
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 thatperson ― 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.

While I liked all of the minor characters in this book from Gretchen’s friends, to Phoenix’s sponsors and other people he met during his journey, I started to get annoyed with the main characters. Probably because this is a teen love story, and it seemed trivial to me that they were comparing Gretchen’s ‘incident’ with Phoenix’s experience, which was much more traumatic. Honestly, the first paragraph insinuates that ‘something more’ happened to Gretchen that she won’t let herself think about, and honestly, I don’t think they mentioned it. And if they did, it was fleeting and trivial and I forgot it. 

What started off a strong independent character (Gretchen) slowly seemed to get weaker and more annoying to me. And her suddenly getting over something so troubling to her because of a boy was bothersome. I liked the Spanish that was peppered throughout the story and some of the minor details of the other characters, but the love story seemed weak to me and made me lose interest in the characters and the overall story.

This was not my cup of tea ... 2 stars out of 5.

Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo. She also wishes that every day was Taco Tuesday.

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Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 70 books.
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