REVIEW: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Dear Ms. McGarry:
When I was at BEA this year, many of the conversations began with “what are you excited about” and to nearly every person I said “Pushing the Limits” by Katie McGarry. My interest was piqued when I came across the cover and title of this book when adding to the new releases site.. This book began my hunt for more New Adult stories. Even though Echo and Noah are seniors, the issues that they were dealing with were ones that I, many years passed, could identify with. They were on the cusp of their adulthood and for Noah, maybe already an adult based upon how life had formed for him. Echo had to resolve the issues of her past before she could look to the future. She was too scared to pursue her dreams because they were wrapped up in fear. The story unfolds, narrated by both characters in alternating first person.
Noah and Echo meet in Child Protective Services mandated counseling. Noah because he is trying to win the right to have visits with his brothers who have been separated from him for two and a half years because “[p]eople with my labels weren’t allowed to live with other minors” in the foster system and Echo because of a trauma so serious that she has lost a part of her memories. Noah is a good kid turned bad boy. He really isn’t a bad boy but he’s generated a bad attitude and a certain disdain for authority. Noah’s parents both died in a car accident leaving behind Noah and his two younger brothers. Noah was only 15 at the time and with no family to care for them, the three were shuttled into the foster care system. When he saw his first foster father beating the father’s biological son, Noah stepped in to defend the child but because the altercation was physical, Noah was labeled a problem child in the system. His two brothers were moved to a different family and Noah had a hard time finding a decent home.
Noah’s entire goal is to get a job and his brothers back. To do that he must prove to CPS that he is a fit person to care for his brothers.
Echo lost her beloved brother in Afghanistan. Something happened between Echo and her mother, something bad but Echo doesn’t remember. She only knows that she is not to have contact with her mother. There is a restraining order. Her mother may be in prison. Echo has numerous scars on her arms, so embarrassing that she wears long sleeves and gloves. It isn’t the scars that are embarrassing but what they represent and how they’ve caused people to interact with her differently. Her friends want the old, popular Echo back, not the moody, unhappy one that has to go to CPS therapy. “The rumors about why I was absent for the last month of my sophomore year ranged from pregnancy to rehab to attempted suicide. My gloves became the kindling and my memory loss the match. When I returned that fall, the rumors exploded into a firestorm.”
Noah and Echo’s first meeting is inauspicious with Noah eyeing her up and trying to get under her skin for the fun of it and Echo rocketing back:
Not a cinnamon roll in sight, but damn if she didn’t smell like one. We had several of our main courses together and last semester one of our free periods. I didn’t know much about her other than she kept to herself, she was smart, a redhead and she had big tits. She wore large, long-sleeved shirts that hung off her shoulders and tank tops underneath that revealed just enough to get the fantasies flowing.
Like always, she stared straight ahead as if I didn’t exist. Hell, I probably didn’t exist in her mind. People like Echo Emerson irritated the crap out of me.
“You’ve got a fucked-up name,” I mumbled. I didn’t know why I wanted to rattle her, I just did.
“Shouldn’t you be getting high in the bathroom?” So she did know me.
“They installed security cameras. We do it in the parking lot now.”
“My bad.” Her foot rocked frantically back and forth.
Good, I’d succeeded in getting under that perfect facade.
Her foot stopped rocking and red curls bounced furiously as she turned to face me. “How original. I’ve never heard that before.” She swept up her backpack and left the office. Her tight ass swayed side to side as she marched down the hallway. That wasn’t nearly as fun as I’d thought it would be. In fact, I kind of felt like a dick.
While I liked Echo and grieved for the loss of her brother; understood her confusion and displacement with her father marrying the family nanny who has a new child on the way; and sympathized with her longing and fear toward her mother, it was Noah that stole the book. His goals are simple but hard to execute. What he wants to achieve is faced with numerous obstacles, not the least of which that he only gets supervised visits with his brothers and his youngest brother seems to be starting to forget him.
There is wonderful nuance in the story in part because Noah and Echo are unreliable narrators but not in a way in which you feel like they are lying to you or that the story they are telling isn’t accurate. The unreliability factor comes in when Noah and Echo are relating their perceptions of the people around them. Noah’s been shafted by the system, but the book shows that there are good and bad foster parents. Echo’s opinion of her stepmother range from the blonde bimbo to someone who did provide love and protection to Echo, just not in a way that she wanted or recognized initially. There was no kumbaya moment for Echo and her stepmother, but a more cautious acceptance. Echo’s friends are not wholly good or bad either, just young and unsure how to deal with the shifting landscape of power players in high school. Their identities are built on a certain social structure and Echo’s movements within that structure are baffling them.
And Noah and Echo’s own interpretation of the other is just as unreliable. Echo views Noah as a drug using, girl using jerk. Noah views (well, see the point of view above). But as the two get to know each other, they become each other’s biggest defender, the first one each turns to.
At the end of the book, I believe in their HEA.
First P.S. I know this book is expensive but I hunted down a Kobo coupon code for 40% off which brings the book down to a little over $6.00: thankyou40. Book should be available on Aug 1 at Kobo.
Second P.S. When I was at BEA this year, many of the conversations began with “what are you excited about” and to nearly every person I said “Pushing the Limits” by Katie McGarry. There is kind of a fun story about how this book got into my hands. I first noticed the book when I was working on the new releases site. My attention was caught by the cover and the blurb. I mentioned that I had to see about obtaining a copy to read. The few goodreads reviewers at the time talked about how much they loved the kind and caring hero in the story. I love kind and caring heroes. We do not see enough of these guys in our genre.
Angela James saw my tweet and sent an email to me introducing me to Natasha Wilson and TS Ferguson of Harlequin Teen. From there I received an introduction to the editor of the book, Margo Lipschultz. Lipschultz also acquires and edits books for HQN (adult romance line). While they offered to send me a paper arc, I wanted to read a digital copy and said I would wait until the digital arc showed up on NetGalley. I’m 50% more likely to read an ARC in digital form than paper.
Then a few weeks later, Sarah Wendell forwarded me an email from Jayne Hoogenberk who had just finished prepping a trailer for the book, was on goodreads and saw that I was excited to read the book. (I had put something in the update status like “who do I have to kill for a copy of this book”). Luckily no one.
I just thought it was neat how every one at Harlequin was so excited about this book. In fact, when I took my tour of Harlequin NY offices, many of the staff had read the book from editors to the rights handlers and all were excited about it and rightly so.
My email exchange with Jayne Hogenboerk after I had opened the book:
Oh no. I just finished the end of Noah’s first scene and my heart already aches for these two.
This book has been one of the year’s highlights, I’m so happy I read it. I thought it was over the top but so engrossing and entertaining I couldn’t put it down (which is what it counts, right?). And the funny thing is that the ending was very real, especially Noah’s ending, it was a realistic HEA and I was glad and a bit surprised.
Great book and great review. I’m not surprised Harlequin was so excited about the book because it’s a good one.
I’ve got this one on my Kindle, but haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the reminder that I need to, Jane.
Such an awesome review. Like Kati, I have this book but haven’t yet read. That’ll change this weekend.
It doesn’t look like this book’s available at Kobo anymore. How long is it, approximately? I’ve been hearing a lot about and I have no problem shelling out $10+ for a great e-book, but I get really irritated when the book ends up being a super fast 150 page read. :(
@Maegan: I think the book won’t show up at Kobo until August 1. I should put that in my review. It’s novel length and according to the PDF I have 392 pages.
I’ve been looking forward to this book but the regular ebook price is steep for me. If I can buy from kobo and convert through calibre to put on the kindle, I will get it. Do you know if purchase from kobo prevents any conversion (DRM)? Thanks.
@Jane: Great — I had not even thought of that! And the page count makes me happy. :)
I really, REALLY loved this one. Like you, I totally think it was Noah that stole the book, but one of the things I loved most was the… mm… authenticity of it? Like you said, there’s no sunshine and roses and rainbows for Echo and her family… there’s hope, and ‘cautious acceptence’, and I LOVED that… that’s real life. I don’t always want real life from my fiction. I want entertainment, and generally that comes from a heightened sense of reality, but… I love when I get that AND believability. I really think Katie’s a terrific author :)
@Tabitha: I don’t know the answer to that Tabitha but I do know it uses regular ADE (Adobe Digital Editions) encryption.
I agree with everything you said Jane. Noah was absolutely the highlight. I actually saw it on the shelves at my local KMart early this week and I was so excited that it’s getting such a wide release. I hope it does well – it deserves to. :)
My old editor at Harlequin acquired this book, and I have literally been hearing about it from her since before she bought it–she mentioned it (without names or anything) way back when she had just read it and was hoping to get it.
So I’m very excited about this.
This Kobo code worked for me Thankyou2012. 35%off I think.
I am so glad I read this review, bought the book with the coupon and started reading straight away after taking a peak and getting sucked in.
I bought this book and really enjoyed it. All of the characters–event he secondary ones–were layered and reasons for doing what they did. No one was black (all bad) or white (all good). It struck me as a very realistic portrayal, and in the end, you are just rooting for both Noah and Echo to be happy.
Just a small correction though: Noah’s parents died in a house fire, not a car accident.
Bought this book and read it today on the strength of this review (thank you for the promo code!) – and I really loved it. I like YA because I remember how intensely I felt everything when I was that age and it’s a little thrilling to lose myself in the emotional edge of that time for a few hours by finding it in a book. With badly written YA romance (which, sadly, does not preclude it from becoming immensely popular), that intensity comes out in all sorts of off-putting ways, such as emotional or even physical abuse of the heroine, but a good author knows how to handle it skillfully and the relationship doesn’t become toxic.
I think there might be a tiny plothole about the fully reconstructed events of Echo’s repressed memories, but that’s about all I can think of in terms of criticism. I’m honestly considering buying the sequel(s) if only to see snippets of Echo & Noah in the background.
Hi, I’m currently reading this one right now, Isn’t Noah’s parents died because of fire? He said when he found Echo and Aires picture that he doesn’t even have a memories of his parents because it was burned and afraid that he may forgot what they look liked?