As in Dream Things True (2015), Marquardt explores the American dream, this time through the lenses of two traumatized teens.
Gretchen, who’s white, should be reveling in the moment as a high school senior. Instead, she’s home-schooled since being robbed and assaulted in her Atlanta neighborhood has left her with debilitating panic attacks. In a nearby community, 18-year-old brown-skinned Phoenix, who escaped and rescued his younger brother, Ari, from gang violence in El Salvador, is staying with a compassionate lesbian couple while he awaits his day in court as an asylum seeker. Phoenix learned impeccable English from missionaries who established a bilingual school in his village, so he’s able to communicate with Gretchen when they accidentally meet. Told in the teens’ alternating voices, the enlightening story follows their growing relationship as they learn the traumatic experiences each has faced and help each other cope with them. The focus, however, is on Phoenix and Ari’s grisly escape, witnessing acts that have left Ari mute in a juvenile detention facility, and their need to avoid returning to certain death in El Salvador. While the teens’ relationship is tested when details from Phoenix’s past coincide with Gretchen’s case, a host of diverse characters lend a hand and offer varying perspectives.
A rushed ending is only a small distraction in this otherwise eye-opening story. (Fiction. 14-18)