Title: Pushing the Limits
Author: Katie McGarry
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release Date: July 31st, 2012
For some reason, Pushing the Limits took me completely by surprise. I expected a typical, run-of-the-mill contemporary romance with teasing banter, heavy romance, and a plethora of family issues that would most likely work side-by-side or take a backseat to the blooming love story at stake. However, with her debut, McGarry pushed aside whatever assumptions I had previously made and delivered a novel that was heart-wrenching, raw, and painful, all while containing a bittersweet romance that took a glorious backseat to the pressing issues in these teens lives and only added to the flavor and essence of this remarkable tale. In all honesty, I think McGarry’s debut is by far my favorite contemporary debut I’ve read so far this year and I cannot wait to see what this talented new author has in store for the future.
Ever since the death of her older brother and a freak accident that happened with her bi-polar mother, Echo has retracted into herself and lost her standing as Ms. Popularity. All she wants to do now is remember – remember what happened that night with her mother, remember how she got the bruises that frame her arms and force her to wear long-sleeved shirts, and remember how life was before her father re-married and started up a new family along the way. For Noah, all he wants is to bring his family back to together. Ever since Noah’s parents died in a house fire, he has been separated from his two younger brothers and paraded around to foster home after foster home. When Echo and Noah strike an unlikely alliance seeded in tutoring and a common goal to attain their top-secret files which contain secrets both of them want, neither of them counts on one very unpredictable thing happening – love.
Pushing the Limits has got to be one of my favorite dual narrative contemporary novels. While I’m not a huge fan of multiple perspectives, I loved how both Echo and Noah’s voice was distinct, remarkable, and lively. Yet, what I admired the most about McGarry’s writing, is the fact that she was able to introduce us to two characters who are broken and torn in ways that most of us cannot even begin to imagine, yet she enables us to understand them. I don’t know anyone in my life who has gone through some of the traumatic events that Echo and Noah have, but reading their narration, I felt as if I could relate to them on a deeper level. I truly loved how McGarry enabled the reader to understand that while we could not fathom the surface situation these two were in, we could come to terms with their more rooted feelings of loneliness, abandonment, loss, and confusion. I think it is very rare for an author to be able to do this effectively with characters so vastly different and torn, but McGarry did a remarkable job.
In addition to their utter realistic-ness however, the love story between Noah and Echo managed to be true to this theme of realism as well. Their romance was slow-to-build and I truly enjoyed how Echo and Noah got to know each other through conversation, trial and error, and multiple meetings. I also really liked the unique manner in which their relationship unfolded. Unlike most novels where the two main characters get together and all their problems begin to mysteriously solve themselves, McGarry made her characters work for their “forever”. We were able to see the culmination of Echo and Noah’s relationship as they ventured into each others’ vastly different worlds and struggled to do what was right for them, their families, and their multiple obligations. I thought the tough situations in this novel were handled extremely realistically and I admire McGarry for taking on such broken characters and making them heal in a manner that was wholly satisfying and not the slightest bit cliché.
Echo and Noah aside, I loved the exemplary cast of secondary characters in this novel. I liked that McGarry made Echo and Noah’s friends such a huge part of their lives. I see so often in contemporary novels that the story seems to only revolve around the two love interests and their parental situation, so I was glad to see that Isaiah and Beth, Noah’s best friends, and Lila, Echo’s best friend, also got to play a large role in their lives. Furthermore, the school therapist, Mrs. Collins, was easily one of my favorite characters because of all the time and energy she devoted to Noah and Echo. Both Noah and Echo needed different things in their lives to get them back on track; Noah a promise to be with his brothers again and an incentive to work for it and Echo a much-needed closure and resurfacing of her suppressed memories. Mrs. Collins was like their guiding angel during this time and more than being a simple social worker, she was their friend.
All the angelic people aside, this novel had more than its fair share of villains. Echo’s parents were definitely a piece of work and I liked how McGarry left Echo’s relationship with them still open towards the end. It is hard to elaborate without giving too much away, but as bits and pieces of Echo’s memories begin to return to her and layers of her past come crumbling down, she begins to realize that the people she thought she could trust really weren’t there for her after all, and this realization is like a kick in the gut to both Echo and the reader. I found her story to be the most heart-wrenching because of all its pain and torture and unhappiness, but I do admit that I cried far more while reading Noah’s story as I kept imagining my own younger brother and myself in his situation. I really liked how Noah’s story unfolded though and while his issues affected the romance between these two, I think they were stronger for working over that hurdle and Noah went through immense character growth and maturation as well.
In all honesty, I could keep telling you about this remarkable story. I could tell you how it had my eyes tearing before I’d even reached the hundredth page. I could tell you how I much I admired the growth I found, not only within both these characters, but many of the secondary characters as well. I could tell you how Noah’s interactions with his siblings were like pulling a heart-string or how Echo’s slow revival into her artwork and her determination to stand up to others was incredibly inspiring. I could tell you all that and much more, but I won’t. Pushing the Limits is a story that demands to be felt and experienced and while it isn’t a novel that changed my world upside down, it is one that I will remember, cherish, and would love to re-read. It is, by no means, perfect – a few phrases that Noah uses are unnecessarily repeated, a scene or two tended to drag, and some of the actions were too melodramatic – but none of that affected the brilliance of this story. Pushing the Limits is a sparkling debut with a talented new author whose sequel I am already waiting to get my hands on and I can bet, so will you.Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for providing me with a copy of this in book in exchange for my honest review.