Echo is struggling to get through her senior year of high school. As if that trial weren't hard enough on it's own, Echo has the misfortune of having once been “popular.” Now she's a post-traumatic stress laden ghost of her former artsy self, with a distressing hole in her memory and a gaggle of “friends” who seem desperate to fix her social standing. Her emotionally absent father and air-headed babysitter-turned-stepmom aren't helping things. Fortunately, her new therapist has the idea to make sure Echo tutors one of the school's resident tortured badboy player: Noah.
Noah has his own issues, of course. He's been bounced from one foster home to another since his parents' death orphaned him and separated him from his two much younger brothers—both of whom he's intent on gaining custody of as soon as he turns 18. But Noah's negative coping mechanisms are many.
Thankfully, this is more of a slow-burn romance with not an ounce of insta-love in sight. Katie McGarry shows a lot of promise in this debut (and having read a later novella by her, this reader is confident her storytelling prowess continues to grow.)
What I liked:
*One of the most authentic-feeling parts of this story was the dismal portrayal of parts of the foster care system. Noah got a bad draw—as too many foster kids do. But I know as a teenager, I didn't take much into consideration concerning foster kids at my school. I see a lot of potential in this book for extending some empathy, or at least patient attempt at understanding, for kids in displaced family situations.
*It does seem as though the author was trying to send responsible messages to impressionable readers, including: don't have sex before you're “ready,” get on birth control if you -think- you might have sex, and keep a condom handy. And if you're going to sleep with every random girl who offers herself, you should get yourself tested for STDs now and then. (Though I have concerns about how realistic it is to think a guy as admittedly promiscuous as Noah would be willing to just stop pressuring and wait indefinitely when he figures out Echo is a virgin...I could at least appreciate the general idea that decent guys take 'no' for an answer and don't just move on to the next willing warm body.)
What I didn't care for:
*Most of the side-characters had a certain forgettable flatness about them. Mrs. Collins, the therapist/clinical social worker, was about the only one that seemed to come to life. (Nice to see at least one positive adult figure depicted, btw.)
*I just didn't like Noah. Despite the dead-parents background and crappy foster care situation...the underlying angst still felt forcibly overdone. (His flagrant overuse of F-bombs and the word 'siren' got to the point of comical for me.) It was as though his situation conjured pity, but no real connection. He was short-sighted, judgmental, about as deep as a kiddie pool...and it took much too long for me to start to feel otherwise about him. Granted, the badboy+goodgirl trope has never really done it for me.
*Echo's repressed memories issue didn't sit quite right with this reader—but maybe I was hoping for more focus on the far more common functional issue of PTSD. The buildup to the big reveal felt a bit drawn out, and the revelation was actually more mild than I'd been expecting all along.
I have yet to read a negative review for Pushing the Limits, and when I went to find one on Goodreads, I really had to dig. [Edit: I found one negative review.] As a reader and a book blogger, when a book gets this much massive hype, I get suspicious. So obviously I had to give Pushing the Limits a try.
Basically, Pushing the Limits is your typical teen romance novel, only for once the protagonists have real problems. That was a nice spin on things, and the fact that Echo and Noah had tough issues to deal with kept me from getting bored with the fluffiness.
As characters, I liked Echo and Noah. They were well-rounded, realistic people, and they had problems more important than a broken fingernail. McGarry’s cast of supporting characters was very nice as well—everyone was nuanced and no one was just black and white.
I also thought the plot itself was good. Most romances tend to follow a pattern, and while I can’t say that Pushing the Limits was completely out of the box, it didn’t go down the most obvious road.
Okay, now, the romance aspect is what everyone seems to be all excited about. For myself, I’ve read swoonier books. I think that if you take a “good girl with issues falls for bad boy who’s secretly sensitive” pairing, a lot of the excitement and freshness is lost. Yeah, there was A LOT of kissing in Pushing the Limits, but the way McGarry wrote those scenes didn’t make them special to me.
And that brings me to the one thing that kept me from raving about this book: McGarry’s prose. It was effective and clear, but for me it lacked something that would have made it spectacular. I was never fully hooked by the writing as I was with by story and characters.
While I don’t believe that Pushing the Limits quite lives up to the massive hype it’s been getting, I do think it’s a very good book, and well worth reading. McGarry’s more “serious” take on teen romance was refreshing, and the end result was a very emotional book with memorable and heartwarming characters.