Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Release date: August 27th, 2013
Series: #1 in the Pushing the Limits series
Rating: This book had everything I don't like--melodrama, pet names, cliches--and yet... I liked it. You win, book. You win.
No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.
Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.
The cover: People kissing. Red hair. Eh.
The story: Pushing the Limits is told in first person, alternating chapter by chapter between the POV of Echo, scarred ex-popular girl with a traumatic secret and serious daddy issues, and Noah, stoner foster-kid whose life is falling apart. At first blush, you'd think you'd read this story a hundred times before, and though you may be right, this is one of the best iterations of that story I've ever read. Because it's a lot more than that, and in the end, it's really a pretty great love story, even if it does veer into Cliche Town. Some slight pacing problems in the latter half of the book and some completely over the top things prevent this from being a perfect read. Echo's story is particularly absurd, but McGarry mostly made it work. This book straddles the line between totally unbelievable and believable in a really odd way. I buy Noah and Echo as characters, even if I don't entirely buy their backstory.
Pushing the Limits is about two damaged teenagers learning to heal, coming to terms with their pasts and futures, and finding someone who loves you for you metaphorical AND physical scars. And on that front, it totally, on hundred percent succeeds. Noah is a pot-smoking foster kid fighting desperately to regain visitation rights with his little brothers, who are in a different home. Echo has horrible scars on her arms from an incident she can't remember, a dead brother, a nightmare stepmother, and a controlling dad. The plot is set in motion when they both start meeting with the new school counselor and cross paths. There, they learn to deal with their issues and not deal with them.
Honestly, the writing itself is mostly average, sometimes above. The strengths of this book are the characters and their emotions. Echo and Noah are wholly believable, both in their characterization and their feelings. Their internal journeys are moving, make sense, and are really beautiful. They both blossom and grow so much in this book, both together and apart.
BUT ESPECIALLY TOGETHER, because whew, can you say chemistry? It nearly
I can totally see why and how these characters fell in love, and why they got over their initial animosity for and misconceptions of each other (plus a million points for hate-at-first-sight. No instalove here). All the swoon awards for this one. What I particularly liked about PtL was that the other relationships don't get neglected; Echo's relationships with her father, stepmother, and best friend, and Noah's relationship with his little brothers and foster siblings are all given equal weight and are quite moving. Particularly Noah and his brothers and Echo and her father. Stop it, Gillian. You are not crying. YOU ARE NOT.
The themes in this book come across very clearly. Grownups screw up, yes, but sometimes they really are trying to do good, as well. And no teenager is who they appear at first glance, and they all deserve second chances, and we are more than our scars, and all sorts of other wonderful themes that makes me frantically try to rub the branch from my eyeball.
Of course, I've always got one or two things to grouse about. McGarry seemed to throw almost every cliche at the wall in the hope that it would stick, and while most do, all together they just become overkill. Also, WHEN will this pet-name business die? It sounded so strange every time Noah called Echo "baby" or, heaven forbid, "my nymph." I get that her (bizarre) name is based off a nymph from Greek mythology, but seriously, I was getting Lolita flashbacks. Shudder. If any guy ever referred to me as "his nymph" or, God forbid, "his siren", you would be HEARING sirens, because he would be in need of an ambulance.
Also, Echo and her brother, Aires, were supposedly named after figures of Greek mythology. Echo does indeed come from a few very famous myths, but... Aires? There is no Aires. Is it supposed to be Ares? Or Aries? WHO THE HECK IS AIRES? Regardless, Echo's memories of her dead older brother were some of the most moving elements of the plot, so I'll let that slide, but seriously. A simple Google search confirmed my suspicions vis a vis his name.
Also, I'm not a fan of characters breaking up out of love, or to save the other person, because they know what's best for them. It's condescending, and mostly Noah and Echo's relationship was very equal and deserving of the word "love", even though the breakup did have a point. But still. Ultimately, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. Noah made me cryyyyyy. And then the end made me cryyyy. I was just a big ball of tears and snot and crying, not from the big, melodramatic stuff, but from the little things. Noah's moment with his brothers near the end. Echo's with her father. Those were the things that touched me, rather than the soap-opera stuff.
If you love contemporary romance, you should get on the Echo-and-Noah train stat. Despite my reservations, I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, which focuses on Noah's best friend/semi-foster sister, Beth, who seems to be about as damaged as they come.