This is a pre release review from Netgalley. This book is due to be released in January 2017.
At a time when the Americans are deciding who is going to be their next President, and of the two main candidates one wants to build a wall to keep all of South America from entering the USA illegally, this is a very pertinent book.
Gretchen lives in Arizona. She is at high school and has a boyfriend called Adam. She has a job and a car and parents who love her. She has an extended family and babysits for her little cousins. Gretchen’s life comes crashing down when she is attacked when walking back to her car late one night. She did all the sensible things; parked on a well lit street surrounded by other cars, she carried her keys in her fist to ward off attackers – yet she still get attacked by a boy in a hoodie.
Phoenix is a boy from El Salvador. He has escaped a ruthless gang culture with his little brother Ari. Ari is below the age where he has to claim asylum; Phoenix is not. As soon as they cross the border they gave themselves up and were separated. they have not seen each other since and Ari has not spoken a word. He is in a children’s detention centre in Texas. Phoenix was taken to a detention centre for adults and then put in the care of two women – Sally and Amanda – who are trying to help him seek asylum in the USA. The problem is that Phoenix has done some things in the past which mean that this may not be possible. He is still carrying a scar that will have a profound effect on his fledgling relationship with a girl he’s not supposed to love.
The book is narrated from both their points of view and is superb. As they slowly seek redemption in each other and Gretchen pulls away from Adam and towards a new, different life, they both see that their world has changed but that it is not necessarily a bad thing. Phoenix cannot get away from his past but Gretchen helps him to see that there is good people that can be a part of his future, if he allows them to be. He just needs to let go of his memories. Gretchen needs to see that although she has witnessed something horrendous time can heal, and we need to see that judging a situation can be fatal.
The writing in this book is beautiful. When Gretchen is describing Phoenix she says ‘And your color: it’s light, but rich and deep, and it makes me want to climb inside you to see what substance God filled you with, to give you that sheen. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. You’re like nothing I’ve ever seen…‘ see what I mean?
This is a time when asylum seekers are constantly on the news and we are all thinking about the impact it has on our lives; this book shows us the other side of those news stories. Each person that makes that journey across the sea, on top of a train or in the back of a lorry has a different story to tell. These boys were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they were trapped in a hell that they didn’t make. Gretchen is also in the wrong place at the wrong time and the way in which she copes with that will break your heart.
When this book is released, go and buy it. Read it in one sitting; devour it. It deserves your full attention. it’s not just the story that will touch you, and it will, it’s the writing, the flow, the way the author makes you feel about the characters she is presenting to you. You won’t regret it, but you may be sad when you finish it!