Fabulous young-adult, contemporary romance
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 397 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Echo Emerson is a senior in high school and almost 18. Her older brother Aires, a Marine, died in Afghanistan two years ago, and all she has left of him is his dog tags, which she wears constantly, and the non-working, classic car he had planned to rebuild when he returned from the war. Her mother assaulted Echo two years ago, around the time of Aires's death, resulting in disfiguring scars on Echo's arms. Due to selective amnesia, Echo can't remember the events of that terrible night, and various healthcare providers have insisted to Echo and her father that it would be detrimental for her to be told what happened--she should allow herself to remember naturally, on her own, when she is ready to remember.
There is a restraining order against Echo's mother whom, in spite of everything, Echo misses and wants desperately to talk to. Echo and her father were never as close emotionally as she was with her mother, and Echo feels alienated from him. Partly for refusing to let her talk to her mother and also because Echo strongly resents her stepmother, Ashley, who used to be Echo and Aires's babysitter, is much younger than Echo's father, and is expecting his child.
Echo has been mandated by Child Protective Services to attend counseling sessions ever since the tragedy with her mother, and the therapy is to continue until she graduates from high school in a few months. She has seen a long-line of counselors, none of whom have helped her amnesia and depression in any appreciable way, and she has recently been assigned to see a counselor at her high school. Mrs. Collins is nothing like the standard-issue high-school counselor whose only talents lie in helping students decide what they will do with themselves after they graduate high school. Instead, Mrs. Collins is a trained therapist who has received a special grant to help troubled students. She is determined to draw Echo out of the terrible social isolation she has imposed on herself since the trauma with her mother, and help an intellectually gifted but educationally disadvantaged fellow senior named Noah Hutchins at the same time by mandating that Echo tutor Noah and that Noah accept that tutoring.
Noah is a gorgeous "bad boy" who is a fellow senior at Echo's school. Three years ago, his parents died in a fire that burned down his home (we don't find out the cause of that fire until late in the book). Noah was 15 at the time, and his much younger brothers were 5 and 2. Noah was out on a date that night, and he has felt guilty ever since that he wasn't there to prevent the fire--even though that was clearly the responsibility of his parents, not that of a mere teenager. His two brothers are being fostered by a young couple who won't permit Noah to visit them. Noah has an unjustly earned bad reputation within the foster system, and they claim he would be a negative influence on his brothers. Noah has a vehement ambition to attain custody of his brothers when he turns 18 in a few months in June. At that time he will become a legal adult and age out of foster care. He has been working hard to gain a promotion at the restaurant where he has a job so that he can get health insurance to cover himself and his brothers and make enough money to rent an apartment where he can house his brothers.
Both Echo and Noah are initially extremely dismayed at Mrs. Collins's tutoring plan, until they realize they might be able to help each other in a major way. Noah wants the location of his brothers from the counselor's file on him, and Echo wants the facts about her mother's assault that are in the file Mrs. Collins has kept on her. If they conspire together, each may be able to find a way to peek into the other's file and report back the vital information they desire.
This is a powerful, contemporary, YA romance written in the classic, highly popular style of adult romance, including: alternating narration of the story from the point of view of the heroine and the hero; close-third-person, past-tense point of view rather than first-person, present-tense; avoidance of a distracting, superfluous male love interest in an irritating, romantic triangle; an uplifting, positive resolution to the romance.
There is a reason that adult romance novels are written this way. It works. The reader is allowed to focus with laser-like intensely on the courtship of the two protagonists as the main, A-Plot of the novel, and the secondary, B-Plot of the novel, though important, contributes to the A-Plot rather than overshadowing it. In the case of this story, the two B-Plots are the tragic family dramas of Echo and Noah. The A-Plot and B-Plots twine seamlessly into each other, and each is brilliantly written. All the subcharacters are colorfully and distinctly drawn, particularly Noah's best friends, Beth (who is the protagonist of the sequel to this book) and Isaiah (who is the protagonist of the third book in this trilogy), and the book as a whole is relentlessly compelling.
Over many decades of reading literally tens of thousands of romances, this is one of the best written romances I have ever had the privilege of reading. Ms. McGarry takes us on a highly emotional and extremely inspiring journey of healing and redemption for both Echo and Noah in this magnificently written book, and the story of the growth of their devotion for each other is deeply moving. I recommend this fantastic YA novel without reservation.
I have had the privilege of reading the sequel, Dare You To, and the novella about Echo's best friend, Crossing the Line, as well. They are also wonderful, and I am avidly awaiting the release of the third book in this series, Crash Into You.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Family Drama Plot: 5