Book Review: PUSHING THE LIMITS
I have to admit, I was embarrassed to buy this book because the title and the cover looked so…cheesy. But my own YA novel “pushes limits” on things like sex and I wanted to see what was out there in the market.
Honestly! I bought this for research…and then I fell in love with it.
The synopsis of the story, below, is not why I fell in love with the book. The plot is fairly weak, a framing device to push the characters closer or to heighten tension. But what McGarry does in between those little nudges takes us on a journey from darkness to light, confusion to understanding. The character descriptions aren’t even that unique but there’s a strong and definite arc that is believable and is well-supported by the events in the story.
What is most impressive about the writing, and the reason why I fell in love with the book, is that McGarry is able to give distinct voices to Echo and Noah as they alternate chapter POVs. I could hear them, practically see them in front of me. The depth of what they are feeling, thinking, and doing, felt so real and honest. It’s a coming-of-age story fraught with the complicated nature of becoming independent from your parents and learning to cope with tragedy and the inexplicable nature of life. Even the side characters are three-dimensional and jump off the page. Little details help flesh out what could be a smarmy teen drama.
So it’s almost an injustice to break the book down into a description of parts, because the way it comes together is beautiful and satisfying and even cathartic.
The story follows Echo and Noah, two teenagers who have experienced recent traumas that have sent them from normal to outcast. Echo disappeared before the end of her sophomore year and when she returned junior year, she was wearing long sleeves and completely introverted. She wouldn’t say what happened and rumors ran rampant that she was a cutter or tried to commit suicide. To top it all off, her older brother had gotten killed while serving in Afghanistan in the same time period.
Noah is new to the school but carries a huge reputation as a one-night stand man-whore and complete stoner. Only a couple of people know that he’s also a foster kid.
Enter Mrs. Collins the new guidance counselor who is also a “clinical social worker” and is intent on gaining their trust and helping them help themselves to better their situations. She wants to help Echo remember what happened on the night when she went to visit her mother and ended up with scars all over her arms. Mrs. Collins wants to help Noah gain more visitation rights with his younger brothers, which requires better grades, less violence, and no drugs.
In an attempt to support Echo’s grieving process, Mrs. Collins sets Echo up with an after-school tutoring job to help fund a repair of the dead brother’s car. The student in need of tutoring? You guessed it…Noah.
At first they hate each other. He’s an asshole to her because he thinks she’s a rich snob. She’s mean to him because she thinks he’s a stoner slut. Of course there’s also the irritation of an inexplicable physical attraction between them. She smells good to him. His body captivates her. But they agree on one thing: Mrs. Collins holds the information they need to move forward and they conspire together to sneak into their files. Along the way, they learn about each other’s histories and are able to share their pain and find compassion in each other.
They are terrified as they realize they are falling in love with each other. Love is something they both lost and are still missing, and they don’t trust it in each other. Echo is certain Noah is going to freak out about her scars and her mental instability. Noah doesn’t know how to love both his brothers, who he wants custody of, and Echo.
You’ll have to read it to find out the rest. It’s worth i