Review: Pushing the Limits

With the Goodreads Choice Awards opening, I want to share my review for the book I voted as best Young Adult Fiction–truly one of the best reads of this year for me: Pushing the Limits.

Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits, #1)Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heartbreaking Tale of Healing and Young Love

I love YA issue contemporaries, and this story is the best I’ve read. Thank you to all my GR friends who recommended this story. Yes, Rena…Mrs. Collins rocks!

Echo Emerson used to be the popular girl at her Midwestern high school. Sure, her controlling father and mentally ill mother had divorced, and her older brother had died fighting in Afghanistan, but she was managing okay. Until the night her mother stopped taking her medication for Bipolar Disorder. Echo emerged from that night covered in scars, with absolutely no memory for what happened. She went from popular to freak — withdrawn and scared.

Luckily for Echo, the school hires a new clinical social worker — Mrs. Collins — who meets with selected troubled students for therapy. (Echo doesn’t feel so lucky to meet with Mrs. Collins, but she doesn’t have much choice).

Another student Mrs. Collins targets is Noah Hutchins, the hot, dark boy in cheap clothes and a leather jacket. His backstory slays me. Noah’s parents died in a house fire, forcing him and his much younger brothers into foster care. And foster care hasn’t been pretty for Noah. The system labeled him as dangerous after he hit one abusive foster father, and now he has limited visits with his brothers. Every time Noah interacts with his adorable bros, I bawled. Jacob is eight and little Tyler’s only four.

The door opened and I automatically stood with the gifts still in my hands. Jacob flew through the door and rammed his body into mine. His head reached my stomach now. I tossed the presents on the table, lowered myself to Jacob’s level and wrapped my arms around him. My heart dropped. Man, he’d grown.

The scheming Mrs. Collins knows Echo wants a job and Noah isn’t working up to his potential in school, so she hires Echo to tutor Noah in Calculus and other subjects. They gradually disclose their pain to each other, starting with Noah:

“It doesn’t get better,” I said. “The pain. The wounds scab over and you don’t always feel like a knife is slashing through you. But when you least expect it, the pain flashes to remind you you’ll never be the same.”

Later Noah asks Echo:

“Think Mrs. Collins put the two most depressed people together on purpose?” I flashed a smile to keep the honesty of the statement from corroding the remainder of my heart.
Echo’s hand retreated. “Wow, I thought I was the only person at this school faking every moment.”

When they compare their scars, they reveal their immense insecurity, starting with Echo:

“It’s not the same. You’re strong. You helped people. I…I trusted the wrong person and I go all pathetic and don’t remember a thing. Anyhow, you’re a guy. Scars on guys are, like, sexy. Scars on girls…that’s just…ugly.” And there, I said it — out loud.
His hold on my hand tightened and his eyes darkened into thunderclouds. “F that. There is no shame in trusting your mother. She f’ed up. Not you. As as for that pathetic bullshit — f that too. You are not pathetic. You had the guts to return to school and continue to live your life like nothing happened. Me? I lost it all and flushed anything left of me down the damn toilet. Now that’s pathetic.”

Beautiful! If only Noah could give himself the same compassion. But these two do grow emotionally in the story, and I thought the ending was both happy AND realistic — my favorite.

This story truly moved me and I want to recommend it to everyone I know. I can’t believe this is a debut novel! I can’t freaking wait to read the continuation of Echo and Noah’s journeys.

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13 thoughts on “Review: Pushing the Limits”

  1. I thought it was pretty good, but I didn't like how he called her \”baby\”. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I wouldn't say it's my favourite YA contemp I ever read, but it was still a good read. I think I almost wished that Noah could have relied more on Echo as a strength for him. She had good reasons to be traumatised and weak I guess, but I kind of hoped she would be more of a 'rock' for him instead of him having to turn elsewhere for that support (Mrs Collins, who yes, did rock)


  2. Hey Trisha,Thanks for weighing in. What you described about Echo was a reason I liked Noah's character much more than Echo. I wasn't as compelled by her family history or the revelation of how the scars occurred (though I did think it was creative). But overall I enjoyed it much more than you seemed to! What are some of your favorite YA contemporaries?


  3. Justine, the more YA I read, the more I'm a fan. At first I wondered what a 41 year-old would enjoy about teenagers, but there's some great stuff out there. I like NA is even a better fit for my reading interests.


  4. I feel the same way. I didn't expect to love YA books as much as I do. I was strictly mystery/suspense or thriller, but I started reading some of my blogger/author friends' books and found that I really liked them. I read even more when my teens became engrossed in books (wanted to know what they were being exposed to) and now I am a huge fan!This book sounds good. I am particularly interested in books that have characters who are affected by a loved one suffering from bi-polar disease. Thanks for sharing such a thorough review.


  5. With your experience as a psychotherapist it says a lot that you liked the book that much and that you found it to be authentic. I do so enjoy your reviews – you always give me what I need to know if a book is for me. I finally followed up on the Look! tag. Thanks for including me, it was fun. ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. Melissa, I'm glad we're simpatico about YA books! I never thought I'd get into them, until I DID! Echo's mother's Bipolar isn't a huge focus, but therapy and mental illness certainly plays a big role. Thanks for stopping by my blog…I'm headed to yours now.


  7. Some that I loved or at least 'really' liked recently were…- Lynn Viehl's DARK OF HEART (more of a novella I guess)- A.S. King's PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ- Claire LaZebnik's EPIC FAIL- L.K. Madigan's FLASH BURNOUTI did like this one too, but I guess it just had a few disappointing aspects.


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