Pushing the Limits completely blew me away. I started reading it at around 9pm one night because I had a migraine and needed something to help me get tired enough to forget the pain in my head and just fall asleep. Usually a paranormal gal, I figured it would take me a while to get into a contemporary like it usually does and I would be able to put it down easily. I was wrong. From page one I was hooked. At 3am, migraine still raging and tears flowing, I finished this absolutely beautiful novel, curled up next to my sleeping husband, and thanked God for McGarry’s exquisite story that is both gritty and raw yet fearful and innocent at the same time.
The beauty in this novel lies first in its characters. McGarry does an impeccable job creating characters that drip with realism. Using an alternating POV between Noah and Echo (the main characters), the reader gets a true sense of who these people are. There are no characters who are simple props. Every character feels like a real person with a real purpose. I see Noah, hear his voice, feel his pain. Echo’s scars are so real I can almost feel them etched into my own arms. Their losses, their fears, their love completely captivated me. They grow and change throughout the story and I grew and changed along with them. I had to keep reminding myself that these were not living, breathing people.
Echo, our main girl and the first POV we get a glimpse of, has been through hell over the past 3 years. She has had some kind of traumatic experience and has completely repressed the memory. An entire day of her life is missing and all she has left are terrible scars both on her arms and in her mind. She is fragile, yet also extremely strong. She is beautiful and vibrant. Yet, she views herself as ugly and unloveable. Her friends are not exactly helpful most of the time and her family is rather broken as well so Echo feels extremely alone and isolated.
Then there’s Noah…if ever there was a book boy I wanted to hug and show compassion to, it is Noah. His story is very different than Echo’s. His parents died and he’s a victim of a very broken foster care system. He’s got two little brothers who he feels responsible for and is desperate to put what’s left of his family back together. At first glance, Noah is a stoner with a propensity for violence. He’s a known player with a list of one-night stands long enough to make a frat guy jealous and a complete jerk. However, since the reader gets his perspective as well as Echo’s, I got to see how much of his persona is an act and how much is really him. He’s complex, hardened and sometimes short tempered yet he is intuitive, sweet, fiercely protective, heroic, and loyal. Absolutely fantastic. His language takes a bit of getting used to but it’s realistic and not truly excessive when you think about what he’s been though. I loved him despite his hard shell and perhaps because of it. I wanted to see him whole and happy. I hurt for him. To me that’s excellent writing.
I absolutely adored the development of Echo and Noah’s relationship as well. While it would have been easy for them to just break each other even further, they find strength in each other. They are gritty and real and completely beautiful together. They push each other to find a “new normal” and that “normal” is beautiful and they are better people because of it. Their growth as people because of their relationship is riveting.
Mrs. Collins was probably my favorite secondary character as I could relate to her the most. I loved the way she was described as a Retriever and always happy. She was genuine and perfectly understanding. I found myself being thankful for her presence in Noah and Echo’s story. I wanted to just hug her and thank her for her role in their story. Then I had to remind myself again that these people are not real.
The plot, at first, seems rather straight forward and simple, yet as the layers are revealed you realize the complexity that is underneath. Still, weeks later, when I think about this book I get tears in my eyes reliving the heartbreak and loss these kids went through–and they aren’t even real! But they feel real! The pacing is completely delicious and leaves you thinking “Just one more page, then I’ll put it down” over and over again until suddenly you’re on the last page and wishing there was more.
Overall, Pushing the Limits is firmly planted on my favorite shelf. A deliciously riveting romance about broken people who find a way somehow to move on from tragedy…together. Absolutely fantastic must-read. I am very much looking forward to more from McGarry.
Disclaimer: Due to some mature content, strong language, and drug use, I do not recommend for younger teens. Pushing the Limits would be a fantastic book to read with your younger teen however.