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“The Radius of Us” Teaches Teens Realities of Immigration

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Tears well up in her eyes as author Marie Marquardt explains how she writes from a broken heart. On Jan. 19, Marquardt shared her experience along with those of her colleagues at a Emory University’s Barnes and Noble, reading from her newest novel, “The Radius of Us.” 

Marquardt decided to tell this story from two shifting points of view. The first is from the mindset of an American girl who no longer feels safe anywhere, even in her own home, and the second is from a boy who has fled El Salvador and is looking for a place to call home. By writing in dual perspectives, you are able to put yourself in both Gretchen and Phoenix’s shoes. “The Radius of Us” has similar themes to Marquardt’s first novel, “Dream Things True” of the difficulties in love, family and immigration.

As co-chair of El Refugio, a nonprofit which serves detained immigrants and their families, Marquardt said she hears the tragic stories almost every day. While receiving letters written mostly by adults who wish to share their experiences in hopes of enforcing change, Marquardt was surprised to receive one from a child. This child was one of the main inspirations of her second novel.

According to PBS Newshour, the number of unaccompanied children entering U.S. custody has skyrocketed since 2012. The majority of these children are fleeing from poverty and gang violence. There is a lot of misunderstanding about immigration.

“The Radius of Us” takes on the difficult topic of immigration in a way that connects readers to the hardships people face in an attempt to find safety. It teaches teens about the realities of immigration in a way they will willingly read and understand. Marquardt makes readers really feel like they know the characters; she found a way to let us in on their lives. I find myself rooting for Phoenix and so many others like him.

Emma Von Hoene Art
art by Emma Von Hoene Art/The Paideia School

Gretchen and Phoenix have both been through things that no one should have to go through. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds, they are each learning to deal with their internal struggles from assault to gang violence, as well as figuring out who they are. As their relationship builds they discover how to trust and feel safe once more.

“The Radius of Us” is exactly what Marquardt hoped it would be: a story of love, hope and, quite possibly, a happy ending.


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Emma Von Hoene, 14, attends The Paideia School and submitted this story in partnership with VOX’s Atlanta Teen Voices program. 


Interested in partnering with VOX to share your story? 

VOX’s program, Atlanta Teen Voices, builds partnerships with other teen-serving organizations and amplifies the voices of teens throughout Atlanta. If you’re interested in partnering with Atlanta Teen Voices and having a similar workshop that lifts voices, encourages dialogue and creates publishable content such as this piece at your organization or school, contact Sarah Garnitz at

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