Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Pushing the Limits is about two high school seniors who’ve basically been through hell. Echo was Miss Popular (well, one of) until one fateful night Sophomore year leaving her with a mosaic of scars crisscrossing her arms and little memory of the experience. Her controlling, overbearing, image-obsessed dad is expecting a child with her former babysitter and her mother–who may or may not have been involved in Echo’s ‘accident’–suffers from a mental illness. Bad boy Noah’s parents died two years ago and after an unfortunate encounter with a former foster parent he’s spent his time trying to reunite with the family he has left. BTW, you learn all this in the first two chapters so I’m not spoiling anything. Anyway, Echo is for various reasons forced to tutor Noah and it is through this that the two become properly acquainted. The novel is spent fixing/discovering their issues, documenting the goings-on of therapist appointments, and sorting through the intense feelings the two have for one another.
As far as romance goes, it is no secret that I love love. So it’s going to sound borderline sacrilege when I say the romance in Pushing the Limits was a little too much for me. Noah and Echo don’t instantly connect but very suddenly develop deep feelings after Noah glimpses Echo’s scars. From then on, the book is spent the two of them fighting against and embracing their feelings toward each other. And I know, I KNOW, I am usually 100% completely all for the whole I-shouldn’t-but-I-want-to kind of thing but in this case it was put on a bit too thick. Props for no insta-love, I’ll give it that, but there’s a serious case of early, overly devoted love. Honestly, my favourite parts aren’t when Noah is being all sweet and actually trying to win Echo over (times when their relationship feels over the top), but when Noah is just being Noah–brooding, sexy, sarcastic, innuendo-y Noah. That guy is fun to read. And while fighting your feelings is great and all, it’s only great if at some point you give in (and, save for the occasional massive roadblock, stay that way). Not stop, go, stop, go, stop, go like some kind of weird literary traffic jam.
Character-wise, Pushing the Limits is pretty solid. Echo is most often fragile, insecure, obedient, and a bit of a push-over yet instead of being annoyed with her for being so delicate, you feel for her. As you read, you watch as she slowly but surely gets her groove back. Every time she does something rebellious or takes a stand, my brain gave her a freaking standing ovation because damn, Echo, I’m proud of you. Noah is her polar opposite–brash, hot-tempered, reckless, impulsive–but deep down he’s a really, really good guy: devoted to his brothers, loyal to those he cares for (even at the detriment of himself), and protective of literally anyone he doesn’t hate. He (eventually) does what’s right even when it’s hard. His best friends/foster siblings, Isaiah and Beth are likeable, understandable, and sympathize-able even when being a complete beyotch (*cough*Beth*cough*). Echo’s friend Grace is easy to hate and her best friend Lila is easy to adore. Mrs. Collins, the therapist, is absolutely lovely; she’s quite possibly my favourite character in this whole book.
The non-romantic plot is very interesting and very well done. The portrayal of Echo’s father and stepmom are confusing in the best way–the reader’s emotions toward them are as conflicting as Echo’s (though I will admit to despising them for a good 87% of the book). The uniqueness of Echo’s situation with her new family as well as the more pressing issue of her mentally ill mother adds an intriguing element to her story and serves as the bulk of her external conflict. I must confess, I cannot say whether or not McGarry’s depiction of mental illness is accurate as no one I know has suffered in this way, but what I will say is it felt real. Believable.
Noah’s situation–and his reactions to it–are very very different from Echo’s and namely concern a custody agreement. With this, McGarry skillfully highlights the flaws in the foster/adoption system, particularly where biological family is involved. The story of Noah’s parents is curl-into-a-ball-and-cry heartbreaking and his devotion to his brothers’ cause is admirable. It is these non-romantic plots that make the book worth reading.
Something that bugged me was though was the structure of the novel itself. The perspective shifts between Noah and Echo every chapter, which is good as it lets you see both their stories but the time jumps between chapters became irksome. Once roughly halfway through the novel, the chapters jump more frequently and often in sets of two: Echo chapter, Noah chapter, time jump. Rinse and repeat. This would have been totally fine except that sometimes the second chapter would taper off into something that I actually really wanted read about only to completely skip the entire part and jump into the next chapter set. Though time jumps are great (and generally necessary) for moving through plots, I simply feel they could have been used better.
As much as I love my romance, I usually opt for the more fun-loving lighthearted love stories as opposed to the more serious kinds. That does not mean I dislike the latter, though. In fact, after reading Pushing the Limits I can definitely see why this sector of the genre has such appeal. It’s interesting to see who the characters are in situations where the other is not involved. It also adds a harsh reality to an otherwise superficial story. All in all, Pushing the Limits is an enjoyable read. Did I love it? no. But did I enjoy it? yes, and that’s what counts. 🙂
Click here for the synopsis on Goodreads!