Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Why I read it: Jane from Dear Author has been tweeting about how good this book is and she talked about it on the latest DBSA podcast. I’m not usually a YA reader, but I was intrigued enough about the story to request this from NetGalley.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  “I won’t tell anyone, Echo. I promise.” Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. “You didn’t do that-did you? It was done to you?” No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked.  

So wrong for each other…and yet so right.

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.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This story sucked me right in from the beginning and even a Thailand holiday couldn’t tempt me away.  I read it almost non stop on the plane and then stayed up late that first night to finish it.  Yes, it is set in a high school, with characters who are just about to turn 18, but it felt very adult to me. Both Echo and Noah were dealing with grown up problems and, for the most part, in a grown up manner (yet it still felt authentic to their actual ages).  Told in the alternating first person POV from both Echo and Noah, the story starts when Noah and Echo are both assigned to have mandatory counselling with Mrs. Collins, a new school counsellor who is part of a special funding programme.    Mrs. Collins is a little too good to be true but she does have some fun quirks which make her very likeable and not just a prop.   
Noah’s parents were killed in a house fire and he and his young brothers were placed in foster care.  When Noah punches the biological father (his first foster father) who was beating his own son, he is labeled a risk and separated from his brothers.  By the time the book starts, he has managed to regain supervised visits of them at a visitation centre for 2 hours per month.  He is not allowed to know where they live or what the last name of their foster parents are, and his own experience in foster care is such that he is very mistrustful that they are being treated well.  His driving ambition is to graduate high school, get a job and gain custody of his brothers so they can be a family again.  
Echo is a little harder to understand at first – she has repressed memories of the events which led to her scars.  Because she doesn’t know what happened, we don’t either, and the reader takes the journey with her to find out.  Echo’s previous efforts to remember have led to severe mental consequences and so, while being desperate to know, she is also terrified of what it may do to her.   She is also somewhat of an unreliable narrator and as the book progresses, the reader sees how her views of the people around her change as she gains insight.  I actually like this quite a bit.    It made sense and felt true to the journey I was taking with Echo.
For me (and no-one who reads my reviews regularly will be all that surprised by this), Noah was the highlight of the story. (There is a reason all of my highlights were from Noah’s POV.) I loved his sense of humour, like here
“You know a lot about math,” I said. You know a lot about math? What type of statement was that? Right along of the lines of “Hey, you have hair and it’s red and curly.” Real smooth.

and here

Because of the warm April night, she’d pulled her shirt up a few inches to expose her skin. At least that was the reason she gave when her fingers inched the material of her blue tank away from the small of her back. Personally, I think she did it to drive me insane 

I love how he thinks.

It had been so long since I’d let myself fall for anybody. I gazed into her beautiful green eyes and her fear melted. A shy smile tugged at her lips and at my heart. Fuck me and the rest of the world, I was in love.

Noah made me smile.  And Noah made me cry.  His love for his brothers, his feelings for Echo and how he tried to reconcile the two, how he grew and sacrificed and forgave and accepted was just wonderful.  I was glad Echo had such a wonderful hero because after all she’d been through, she certainly deserved a champion.  And, that’s what Noah is for her.  
I completely believed in the HEA.  I’m hoping to see glimpses of them in the next book which features Beth, Noah’s foster sister, but this is one romance where even though the main characters are only both 18, I believed they could be together for the long haul. 
I liked how they didn’t rush into any long term commitment or even into an intimate physical relationship until they were ready (Noah is a real gentleman).  That said, the scenes where they were making out were very sensual.  For a book which pretty much keeps it clean, it was very sexy and, much to my surprise, it was very satisfying for me.
Noah (and the author) understand grief.  And I liked this description – which I think is 100% accurate.
“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.”
One of the reasons I don’t read a lot of YA is that I prefer adult themes but this book, even though it features young adults, is very much about adult themes and the heat level is both appropriate and steamy at the same time.
I did think the end resolution for Noah was neat, but I was just so pleased that I didn’t care.  Noah and Echo had been through so much that I wanted them to have their chance.
What else? I am finding that I’m far more interested in reading “new adult” stories than I was before this book.  If there are more books out there like this one, I’d had to miss out.   If you don’t usually read YA, I’d urge you to give this one a go anyway – it’s just that good.  You might find, like I did, that the chance is totally worth your while.  Thanks to Jane for the recommendation.
Grade:  B+/A-

9 comments on “Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

  1. Lori

    Hmmm. Sounds really interesting and something I might enjoy. Thanks, Kaetrin.

  2. Marg

    I added this book to my TBR list for the same reason!

  3. Jane

    Yay! So glad the recommendation worked out for you. I think Noah is the star of the book but I still found Echo compelling and I thought the portrayal of her father and step mother felt very authentic. Like you, the unreliable narrator factor was very important here in conveying Echo's state of mind.

  4. Kaetrin

    @ Lori & Marg – let me know what you think if/when you read it.

  5. Kaetrin

    @Jane The further I read in the book, the more authentic Echo felt to me – as I understood that unreliable narrator factor, I saw that my initial impressions of her father and Ashley (?) were very much age and circumstance appropriate – in a book where the themes were very adult, it was easy to remember that Echo was only 17. I thought it was very cleverly done.

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