Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry – Review

Book Jacket:

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

You can read an excerpt here.


Given the good girl/bad boy romantic packaging, I found myself eying Pushing the Limits in a wary, jaded kind of way, but after hearing a lot of positive buzz I went ahead and cracked it open. Inside I found an engrossing story that I enjoyed reading, though all in all I do think the drama was a tad overwrought.

What I really loved about this story was how its central romance opened up the lives of its main characters. The romance is the spine of this book, no question, but it’s also not the be all, end all of the story – instead the romance is the key to unlocking the secrets of Noah and Echo, the crack in their defenses that lets us in, that slowly brings them to reveal and/or uncover the truth of their damaged, hidden selves. And while there was frankly a bit too much of them both staring at the hotness that is each other, I really, really enjoyed how they challenged each other, how they understood each other’s damage, and called each other on their BS. I especially liked how Echo maintained her self-respect, wanting something real from Noah instead of just falling into his arms, and how Noah wanted to be something more for her. It was wonderful to see a relationship that made them both want to try to be better, and I was rooting for them the whole way.

Still, there were definitely some aspects to this story that felt a bit unrealistic to me. The most overt example is actually Noah himself, who is ridiculously kind and sweet beneath his razor-thin “bad boy” exterior. He turns into perfect boyfriend material with a speed and relative ease that frankly defies credulity, given everything he’s been through, and it just edged the story a bit towards fairy tale land, with Noah the Prince Charming. Similarly Mrs. Collins, the clinical social worker who takes on both Noah and Emma’s cases, is frankly unbelievably smart, involved, knowledgeable, and available, and the way she always knows exactly how to help both of them, and supports both of them totally, frankly felt a bit Fairy Godmother-like, to me. I just couldn’t quite believe it.

Still, I really enjoyed how McGarry delved into the psychology of trauma, and how she got beneath the skin of her dueling narrators. I also loved the way McGarry slowly revealed exactly what happened to Echo the night she was scarred, and I was fully caught up every step of the way – though sadly the ending did end up feeling kind of anticlimactic. Everyone in this story makes such a point of not telling Echo what happened, to protect her “fragile psyche,” that when it all came to light I just found myself wondering why on earth they didn’t tell her –  everything she suffered up to that point seemed so much worse than simply knowing the truth. Now given I know absolutely nothing about psychology, this could be a totally unfounded suspicion – but I do find myself harboring the suspicion that Echo not being told was more for dramatic purposes than anything else.

In a similar vein, Noah’s story – which also builds throughout the story – also kind of fizzles towards the end. Noah struggles to fight the system for four hundred pages, and then at the end the resolution just arrives with unseemly ease, and it deflates his arc somewhat. It’s a nice, sweet ending, but I found myself wishing it had been a bit more earned, and a bit more enervating.

So while the resolution to this story does answer every question, and has plenty of sweet romance to enjoy, overall I closed this book feeling a bit oversold. Looking back, I realize the DRAMA that led up to the finale ended up overpowering the finale itself, such that I can’t help feeling this book overall was a bit overwrought. I did enjoy the story, I just wanted a bit more from it in the end.

Still, I’ll say it again – there is a lot to like about this story, especially in how it explores the ways teens can struggle to cope and heal, while all the while facing the reality that there are some things that can never be fixed. Watching Noah and Echo team up to fight their personal demons was just really, really sweet, and watching two unhappy teens find joy in each other makes for a lovely romance. All in all this book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

Byrt Grade: A-/B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

This intense and intriguing debut delves into the psychological difficulties of two teens who fall in love….Told in alternating chapters for both Echo and Noah, the story slowly uncovers the teens’ secrets and builds to resolutions for both. While the romance will attract many readers, it serves mainly as the framework for a psychological examination of the two as they work through their problems.

The Book Pushers says:

Pushing the Limits was quite a long book, and I’m really glad that it was because nothing was rushed and there was no storyline left unturned. Noah and Echo’s romance sort of holds the two of them together. Despite some of the issues I had with this novel, this is such a compelling read.

Publishers Weekly says:

This somewhat sensationalized “opposites attract” romance may dwell a little too long on Noah’s infatuation with Echo’s red hair and large breasts, but its suspenseful plot, dramatic conflicts, and tragic characters will keep readers engrossed.