Monday, February 27, 2017

Books Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies & The Radius of Us


I don't want to short-change either of these beautiful pieces, but as I read them side by side, I think it may have been in the fates to not just read together, but review together. Both are new YA romances released in January - The Radius of Us (Jan 17) and Under Rose Tainted Skies (Jan 3) - and they both feature young female protagonists struggling with their own issues when in comes a love interest that turns it all around (give or take a few side plots). Now, part of me is withdrawn from falling deeply in love with either because of the semi-archetypal guy-meets-girl, nothing-else-matters, guy-fixes-girl plot line - but I think what makes these two pieces beautiful and worthwhile are the fresh characters and other themes and inclusive messages in these novels that keep these characters relatable, new, interesting and not just typical YA romance 'fixers.'

Let's start with The Radius Of Us. Written by Marie Marquardt, a self-described "author, college professor, and immigration advocate," this novel's characters are overflowing with voice, passion, and emotion. Her work as an immigration advocate, her purpose to connect using stories as a "powerful tool against the hate, fear, and misunderstanding that plague our society," emanates out of this novel.

Gretchen, who is still working to recover from being attacked late one night after work, suffers panic attacks and immense anxiety. This is why when she first sees Phoenix, an immigrant from El Salvador she bolts with her niece and nephew because from a distance he reminds her of her attacker. When she goes to find him to apologize, they end up hitting it off, and the rest of their romance will keep you winding through the pages of this novel. It alternates first-person point-of-view between Gretchen and Phoenix throughout the novel, which lets you in so close to the heart of these two. You soon learn Phoenix's radius becomes their shared radius that Gretchen keeps trying to help him expand. This as she learns (and the reader will as well) of the pitfalls of the United States immigration system and the risks former gang members face for trying to leave gangs and seek asylum. Phoenix also works to save his brother Ari, who he forced to flee with him into the US from El Salvador through Mexico and treacherous, scarring experiences along the way. Through many difficult experiences, memories, and conversations, the radius between Gretchen and Phoenix grows smaller as they fight their demons together, working to overcome every obstacle life has to throw their way. As Karin Greenberg wrote for School Library Journal, "VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections." :)


This brings us to the second selection, a debut novel from Louise Gornall, Under Rose-Tainted Skies. Norah, for the past several years has been struggling with agoraphobia, anxiety, and OCD. She dreams of going to study in Paris but can't make it out of her house on most days. Her life revolves around her mom and her therapist, and avoiding pretty much everything else. At times, even that bare minimum is too much. Then Luke, a new neighbor her age moves in next door. Intrigued, feeling things she has never felt before, she struggles to both navigate her feelings about him as well as pretending to be 'normal' around him. From the pits of the worst moments, "I can't help thinking it would be so much easier if we just didn't bother" (7), "This is not about dying. This is about trying to get back some control" (143), to the sweet young romance, "Then he smiles at me and I forget why I am frustrated" (51) - the friendship they form is sweet and heartfelt, and the lessons they learn from each other are as well as they both work to heal from their own pain. Gornall's writing is raw and you can almost hear and sense the humor she was gifting to Norah's character as she wrote. The glimpses into Norah we get really develop her character so deeply, but it still left me wanting more as far as the plot was concerned. I worry the message coming out of this book is more of the "a boy can help fix you" than "therapy and/or professional, certified counselors can." I think it's AWESOME to have more books even broaching the subject of mental illness to even be able to have the privilege to lodge that request! It's a great read, but just concerns me the depth of her struggles and what seems to be not really the amount of care she needs. Definitely a fresh voice in YA, and one I look forward to reading more from!

Cupid has really struck so far with these 2017 YA New Releases! Happy reading!

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