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Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

 Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarryEcho Emersons days of being part of the cool group are over. Sure, she might have been the girl who topped every class, won awards for her art, and who filled in her afternoons with all sorts of upbeat extra-curricular stuff, but things have changed. Now she spends her days making as little impact as possible on the world. She hides her scarred arms beneath sloppy, long-sleeved jumpers, avoids eye contact with her peers, and quietly slinks off for hours or mandated counselling.'

The rumours abound, but no ones quite sure what happened to transform Echo from a friendly, bubbly teen into the ghost shes become. Even Echo doesnt know, because her memories of the night that completely changed her life are hidden somewhere deep within. All she knows is that her mother had something to do with it. And she and her counsellor are determined to reach back in time to stitch back together Echos lost memories.

But Echo doesnt plan on falling for the troubled Noah, a foster care boy whos struggling with a past of his own, and whos doing his best to repress it with whatever numbing influences he can find. When the two are assigned as study partners, with Echo given the task of getting Noahs grades back up to scratch, the chemistry between the two is impossible to ignore, though neither wants to admit it. Echos in no state to be thinking about a relationship, after all, and Noahs nothing but bad news. But as the two grow closer, they realise that theyre not as different as they seem, and that perhaps they do, after all, inhabit similar worlds.

The obvious comparison for'Pushing the Limits is Simone Elkeles'Perfect Chemistry, and Ill admit that I found myself frequently making comparisons between the two as I read. Both are told from dual perspectives and feature a privileged female slumming it with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, but who despite his tough exterior in reality has a heart of gold. And both take the relationships between their main characters into directions that make me slightly uncomfortable. In'Perfect Chemistry I disliked the fact that the relationship essentially stemmed from a bet between the hero and his best mate; in'Pushing the Limits I disliked the fact that Noah seemed to'compete for Echo, going so far as to get into a punch-up with her (admittedly jerky) ex, and the constant reiteration of her being his, and belonging to him.''Though Noah apparently loves her to the point of getting down on one knee (yes, really), he seems often to treat her more like a beautiful object rather than a person.

Echo, who is clearly emotionally damaged and has serious trust issues, struggles with choice and agency, and invariably capitulates to authority. Her constant refrain for the first half of the book is yes, Daddy, as she avoids any sort of confrontation with her overbearing and overprotective feather. Its hard to believe then, that Echo truly falls for Noah: its very often tempting to see their relationship as one into which Noah, who is very often aggressive and authoritative, has drawn her. This is particularly the case given that Echo also agrees, though she loathes the idea, to date her ex, Luke, persisting through several dates with him even though he demonstrates no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Echo comments at one point that Luke behaves around her like a dog marking its territory, but yet, Noah does exactly the same thing with his constant claiming and possessiveness. On the flip side of the coin, Noah frequently calls Echo his siren, raising the suggestion that hes being drawn into something against his will. Is this relationship more about the irresistible lure of chemistry than it is any actual desire to get to know and love someone?

In addition to the problematic nature of the romance plot, I often found it difficult to understand why Echo makes the decisions that she does, and in part I think this is because of the fact that theres so much going on in this book that shes being pulled in all manner of directions as the various subplots require. Although'Perfect Chemistry certainly had its fair share of drama, from memory it was largely kept to the key romance narrative.'Pushing the Limits, on the other hand, attempts to fit in an immense amount of material, but in doing so confuses and dilutes our understanding of Echo and her gradual overcoming of her past. Echo is not only attempting to remember the night where she was so horribly injured, but shes also attempting to deal with her grief at her brothers death, with her fathers pressure over her future career, her stepmother and erstwhile babysitters pregnancy, her awful ex, and being bullied at school. And theres a similar amount of complexity on Noahs side, making for what feels like a good deal of drama, and a fairly slow middle.

So many of the other characters act in ways that are strange and surprising, too, and its hard to fathom the motivation behind their behaviour. Why does Echos father push Echos relationship with Lukeand to such a degree that hes essentially encouraging the two to spend the night togetherdespite being frightfully conservative, not to mention surely aware of Echos dislike for the boy? Does Grace'really care so much about Echos injuries that shes ready to ditch a friend over it? And why does Noah break in to the school at the end of the book? And, while Im asking the tough questions, why does he comment so frequently on Echos hair smelling like cinnamon?

Though Echo did grow on me, it did take me a good while to connect with her, and I think in part this was because of the drama that as constantly being sent her way. The book bordered on melodrama at times, and I felt that this detracted from the realism that the author seemed to otherwise be striving for. For example, the circumstances behind Echos injuries were given enormous emphasis, with all sorts of flash-backs and nightmares and angst, but were eventually revealed to be fairly anticlimactic. When what happened is revealed, its fairly promptly cast aside in a way that doesnt, to me at least, feel satisfactory given that this event is what has apparently defined Echo for so long. I also found the depiction of Echos mothers mental illness a little disappointing, particularly since it was effectively the reason for Echo severing her relationship with her mother. I also found the resolution of Noahs problems a little abrupt: throughout the book Noahs key goal is to claim guardianship of his brothers, but this thread is eventually wrapped up with a single conversation, which I didnt feel was enough to do this complex issue justice.

Finally, I just didnt quite feel the progression of the relationship between Noah and Echo. Though I was on board with their falling in love and their passionate affair after that, the very adult, serious turn that the relationship took seemed a little much for a YA, even if it is a YA romance. I know that Harlequin is all about the happily-ever-after ending, but I felt that this one was a little overt for a book geared at teens, and the more of these books I read, the more concerned I am about first love being consistently portrayed as a forever love.

Although I did have my reservations about the relationship between Noah and Echo, I suspect that many of my problems of this book could have been done away with with some streamlining of the books middle in favour of a more measured approach to the conclusion. This isnt a bad read by any means, and I dont want to give the impression that I didnt enjoy itI did. I think that many of my complaints are due to my being old and grumpy and averse to relationships that emphasise possessiveness as something desirable.

'Rating: star Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarrystar Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarrystar Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarryblankstar Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarryblankstar Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (good)

With thanks to Harlequin Australia for the review copy

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  1. I agree with this review. I think this book would have benefited from some fairly aggressive editing. it was just too long and there was too much repetition.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Gabrielle. I agree with you about the editing, and think that streamlining things could really have brought out the obvious potential thats here.

  2. sounds incredibly angsty

  3. Stephanie /

    Hee! Yeah, totally angsty, but generally fairly appealingly so.

  4. Ha our reviewing was in sync! And I totally agree both Noah and Echos arcs needed a more emphatic ending.

    • Stephanie /

      Strange how that happens, isnt it? Id honestly just hit post, and then received the notification about yours in my inbox. Odd!

      I just felt that given that there was so much build-up, and the issues raised in their arcs were so complex, there really could have been more resolution. I think theres going to be a second in the series, but as far as I know, it looks at Beth rather than Noah and Echo.

  5. Interesting yet another YA romance novel full of possession. I think you hit the nail on the head with my discomfort with these books, it is because this first love is shown as forever love that I get a little uncomfortable. I think it is all well and good for a not so good relationship to be portrayed in a novel for teens, but maybe it should be a learning point, a stepping stone for better relationships.

    Im also reading a book with a lot of cinnamon in it, and sandalwood, and lavender. These are apparently the only three scents a person (or vampire) can be associated with. When I right a book, Ill talk about people smelling like poo, just for the heck of it. And maybe because if I ever right a story about my life, that would be true. :)

    • Stephanie /

      There are dozens of lines in this book where Noah talks about claiming Echo, or making her his, or fending off some other guy because Echo belongs to him. To be fair, Echo does call him and Luke on this behaviour some of the time, but its so prevalent that it gives me the heebies.

      Im all for first love, but I do worry that the sheer prevalence of these happily-ever-after teen love stories is sending the wrong messages. I think thats why I enjoyed Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler so much. It was written from the POV of a character who had just broken up with her partner, but this didnt dilute the passion and angst involved in the relationship: she was able to look back and appreciate their time together, even though it hurt.

      Bwhahah, love the scented oils as personal aromas. Id imagine that vampires would smell like a butchers shop, personally.

      PS, if you ever write that story, Id rather you didnt write me in as smelling of poo. :P I smell of Kenzos Leau, thank you very much!

  6. I, too, am very uncomfortable with romance characters being possessive. I have done a lot of research on domestic abuse and at its root is the notion that the abuser owns and has rights over the other. Its especially worrisome in YA. I dont love it in any fiction, but it bothers me that young readers might think its romantic. I dont expect writers to bring up their readers, but I do think its important to raise these things when you see them, as you have done, Stephanie.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Imelda. I agree with you that authors shouldnt be forced to depict only happy or healthy relationships, but I see so much of this possessiveness = love notion in YA that it really does bother me. Im glad that at least Lukes character was shown up for his domineering and possessive ways, but Noah is just as problematic at times.

      Obviously people arent perfect, and I dont expect authors to write only about saints, but I just wish that there were more examples of healthy, equal relationships around, or that at least these problematic relationships could be compared/contrasted with a healthier relationship so that these assumptions about ownership and making sacrifices in the name of love and so forth could be challenged. (Making a sacrifice isnt really an issue in this book, but its something Ive seen over and over in YA. Giving up everything in the name of love and so on. Um. Giving up everything for love? Some love youve got there.)

  7. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out /

    I agree with several of the points you raised Stephanie but I also saw some things a little differently. I think Noahs possessiveness is less of a ownership thing and more about the fact that he is essentially alone and wants someone to belong to. In answer to one of your questions, to me, Echos fathers pushing of her relationship with Luke was about making her normal again, making things like they were before and as such absolving his guilt about what happened.
    Thoughtful review as always!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective, Shelleyrae. I think that Noahs issues definitely come to a head in the scene where he begins to imagine them all as a happy family, but the way he speaks seems to bring to mind, to me at least, the idea of someone laying claim over their territory.

      I found the whole business with Echos father really difficult to believeand I felt the same about Echos astonishing submissiveness towards him as well. I understand that he wants Echo to fit in and do normal school-kid things, but to push a relationship that she seems so clearly uninterested in seems very odd, particularly given how protective and conservative he is in general.