I was terrified to move, breathe, exist in this moment. On TV, teenagers were portrayed as happy, carefree. Echo and I would never know such a life. My parents died. I got screwed by a system supposedly in place to protect me. Echo…Echo was betrayed by the person who should have laid down her life to protect her.
Every once in awhile, I read a book for which I’m simply not the right audience. Katie McGarry’s debut, Pushing the Limits, is one of those books.
If I were an Actual Teen, I probably would have adored this book. If I were an avid adult romance reader, I would probably love this as a fresh young adult take on a traditional contemporary romance. But, I’m neither of those, so Pushing the Limits sits solidly in the same place as Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry series—that is, equal parts engaging and frustrating.
Echo Emerson doesn’t know what happened to her the night she almost died at the hand of her mother, but it changed her life forever. The physical scars and psychological trauma transformed her from popular cheerleader to social outlast. She meets another outcast, Noah, thanks to their shared therapist at school (the therapist assigns Echo as Noah’s tutor). Noah has a reputation as a bad boy/troublemaker type. He’s in the foster care system because both of his parent died in a fire—and he’s separated from his beloved younger brothers because he protected another foster child from an abuser and is labeled as dangerous as a result. Naturally, opposites attract and sparks fly, which we see from both Noah and Echo’s first person points-of-view.
Y’all, I’m not known for my brevity, but I’m going to bullet point some stuff here, just so you can understand all the things that happen in this book.
- Echo’s memory loss
- Echo’s crazy mother
- Echo’s controlling father
- Echo has a brother who was killed while serving in the military
- Father marries Echo’s former babysitter
- Former babysitter has new baby with Echo’s father
- Echo has many, many friend problems
- Noah and Echo try to steal some records from their therapist’s office
- Noah plots to get his brothers back
- Echo dreams of fixing up her late brother’s old car
- Noah and Echo have many Big Misunderstandings
Whew… I think I got it all.
Basically, there is a lot happening in Pushing the Limits that detracts from the core story, which is Echo and Noah’s relationship as a catalyst for both being able to move forward from their difficult pasts.
One of my biggest issues, aside from from that there were just too many overly-dramatic plot-lines going on, was Noah’s incessant internal monologue.
It seemed at best out-of-place for a 17-year old boy (even one who’s gone through as much as Noah had) and at worst seemed straight-up sketchy.
My mom and dad would have hated my hairstyle and any sign of stubble on my face. With my mother in mind, I didn’t let my hair grow past my ears on the sides, but, out of self-preservation, I’d let the top grow a little long, denying people access to my eyes.
And worse, Noah constantly refers to Echo as “his siren.” Every single time I read this (and it happened a lot), I paused. Because, you know, in mythology sirens are generally pretty awful—they lure unsuspecting sailors to their deaths. This language really, really bothered me. What does he mean by “siren”?
For the apology or the curl, I had no idea and wasn’t going to ask. My heart pounded in tune with thrash metal. We’d read about sirens in English this fall; Greek mythology bullshit about women so beautiful, their voices so enchanting, that men did anything for them. Turned out that mythology crap was real because every time I saw her, I lost my mind.
It was compounded even more because it didn’t make sense for Noah’s character. We’re told he’s a “bad boy,” and he builds walls around himself to protect himself from the hard existence he’s found himself in. But, at his core, he’s a good kid who just wants to do the right thing and not get too hurt in the process.
And then we have Echo. Echo was a frustrating character.
Fantastic. Another rumor to worry about. I needed to get away from him. Noah Hutchins meant nothing but bad news. First he made fun of me. Then he saw my scars. Then he destroyed my hopes of fixing Aires’ car. Then he made people think we were doing “it.”
Much of the time, I never understood her motivation or reasoning behind her decisions. For example, she begins dating her ex-boyfriend even though she doesn’t like him. She allows her father to walk all over her. Basically, she read as way young (which is a jarring counter-balance to Noah, who read as way old), in a way that doesn’t make sense based on what we are told about her character.
I honestly was confused about her much of the time, and as a result ended up caring much more about a good outcome for Noah than I did Echo. Much of the drama was manufactured by the characters’ poor decision making, especially on Echo’s part, that often simply didn’t make sense for me—it was as if Noah and Echo were intentionally trying to make their lives more difficult.
I do think a lot people—especially Actual Teens looking for a dramatic romance—will adore Pushing the Limits, however.
McGarry’s writing is very engaging—despite all of the plot-lines, I read this quickly and the story flowed nicely. And, the highlight of this novel is definitely the chemistry between Noah and Echo.
My insides had melted when Noah produced his wicked grin and gazed at me like I was naked. Luke used to give me butterflies. Noah spawned mutant pterodactyls.
In particular, Noah is a typically hormonal teen boy, but he also respects Echo’s boundaries. I am so, so weary of young adult novels where the boy is “bad” for, you know, being physically attracted to his girlfriend (I will say that Luke, the ex, is portrayed somewhat in this manner, but it’s not in a ridiculous over-the-top way). And, Echo is more in “lust” with Noah in the beginning than anything, which means that their relationship has a fairly logical trajectory. (No typical YA, “OMIGOD we’re in LUV” way too early in this one.)
I know it sounds like I’m skewering this novel, and I don’t mean to come across that way. It’s just that what had a lot of potential fell flat for me. Fans of Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry series will love the swoony romance and amped up drama. Because I read YA pretty widely I’ve just seen this sort of dramatic romance done far more effectively (such as in Going Too Far and Such a Rush or even in My Life Next Door), which resulted in my never being particularly emotionally invested in the story.
However, McGarry is publishing a companion novel to Pushing the Limits featuring one of the secondary characters and I’ll probably check it out when it’s released, since there was nevertheless an engaging quality to this book.
FNL Character Rating: N/A
Some Additional Thoughts
I’ve seen some folks—especially a very popular and prominent blog—label Pushing the Limits as “new adult” and I’m perplexed as to how it’s earned this label. Despite the many heavy topics, this is very much a young adult novel. The characters are in high school and many of their problems are rooted solidly in the high school experience (fitting in, high school social structures and labels, first love). I think it’s interesting how that term “new adult” has already morphed in some circles to mean any YA novel that has heavier themes. Again, I think this speaks to the challenges of describing what YA is and is not.
Harlequin is very smart with the teen imprint in that every book I’ve read from HT has been very much aligned with their various adult imprints, and Pushing the Limits is no different—if it were an adult novel, Pushing the Limits would fit nicely in their HQN lineup. Essentially, Pushing the Limits (and many of their other YA releases) is the perfect gateway to hook younger readers into the Harlequin brand and likely making them lifelong customers. This is pretty smart longterm thinking on Harlequin’s part—thinking that other publishers would be smart to emulate.
Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.