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 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 She went from popular to freak — withdrawn and scared.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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