Pushing the Limits
Katie McGarry’s Young Adult title Pushing the Limits has gotten so much positive buzz in the YA reviewer community; I held little hope that it would live up to my expectations. Thankfully, I was wrong, and it did. Very much so.
High school senior Echo Emerson hates her life. Her father, a controlling perfectionist, bullies her about grades and SAT scores. Her family-wrecker of a stepmother used to be her babysitter. Her beloved older brother Aires was killed while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan. Her mother…well, at the end of Echo’s sophomore year, her bi-polar mother did something so horrific that Echo has repressed all memories of the incident. Not that she can truly forget. Ugly scars run up and down Echo’s forearms, and she’s forbidden to have any contact with the woman directly responsible. Nearly two years after that fateful night, Echo has gotten used to being the class freak. Now she’s been ordered to see yet another new counselor, Mrs. Collins.
Noah Hutchins life isn’t a whole lot better. After his parents died in a house fire, he and his two little brothers were put into foster care. When Noah defended the son of his foster father from being beaten, he was labeled a problem child and separated from his brothers. Shuttled from one bad foster situation to another, Noah transformed from a smart, popular jock to a burned out stoner with a serious love-‘em-and-leave-‘em reputation. Now, his only goal is to turn 18, graduate high school, get a better paying job and get his brothers back. Standing right in the middle of his path is the school counselor, Mrs. Collins.
Seeing two lost souls who might just be able to help each other, Mrs. Collins arranges for Echo to tutor Noah who, though very smart, has fallen behind by skipping class too often after late night shifts working at a burger joint. Their dislike is open and mutual. But pretty soon the two realize that they can work together to obtain critical information stashed in Mrs. Collins’ files. Echo will finally learn what happened to her the night she can’t remember, and Noah can get what he needs to track down the foster parents that are currently housing his brothers and obtain the evidence he needs to prove that they are being mistreated.
What neither Echo nor Noah expects is to find the one person able to look past the labels everyone has placed on them. As their feelings for each other strengthen, Echo’s friends, who haven’t given up hope that she can regain her popularity, warn her against a guy like Noah. And Noah’s friends, Beth and Isaiah, can’t understand what he sees in the “crazy” girl. Through it all, both Noah and Echo must learn that there is always more than one side to every story, and that while those they’ve trusted to care for them might let them down, they can always count on each other.
Told in alternating points of view, Pushing the Limits depicts a fantastic enemies-to friends-to lovers story. Noah and Echo both face serious obstacles and are true victims of events that were out of their control. In addition to their love story, the depiction of young adults moving into adulthood was handled with a deft touch.
While both characters were appealing, Noah made this book for me. His bad boy behavior doesn’t result because of a self-destructive nature, but rather because the system worked so thoroughly against every effort he made to sustain his prior life. For example, he admits to Echo that despite loving basketball and excelling at the sport, he had to quit the team because he didn’t have money for equipment nor foster parents able and willing to help him get to practices and games. Whenever he’s tried to do the right thing, he’s been burned by the system. He has no reason to trust anyone who claims to be looking out for his best interests, and his determination that he is the only person that can properly take care of his brothers makes sense given what he has been through. As a reader – and an adult – it’s so clear that Noah’s viewpoints are skewed, but Noah has to come to that realization himself.
The mystery of what happened to Echo is revealed slowly, the reader learning the truth as Echo herself regains snatches of her memory. The excuse given to Echo as to why no one will simply tell her about the events of that night seemed flimsy to me – apparently, in order to be able to handle it, she has to remember it herself. But I went along with the premise as Echo herself must do. Once she begins to learn the facts, the depth of betrayal she has experienced at the hands of the people who were supposed to love her and take care of her is staggering, and I found her reaction to be very realistic. Also realistic is how she comes to terms with her parents’ failings.
McGarry’s skill comes through in her ability to portray all of her characters as both good and bad. No one is a true villain even though the actions of many – especially the adults – is often far from admirable. In fact, Noah and Echo’s journey to adulthood is based in large part on their realization that not all adults are bad simply because their own experiences have shown them otherwise.
Because I thoroughly enjoyed Pushing the Limits, I have already started reading the sequel, Dare You To, that tells Noah’s friend Beth’s story and greatly anticipate his foster brother Isaiah’s book Crash Into You, which is set for a late November release. If you are looking for a more serious YA title, I can happily recommend this book.