October 27, 2012

Pushing the Limits: A Close-Up Review

"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.
" (from Goodreads)

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry


Echo: she's obviously gone through a lot of trauma. It's been suppressed, but under the surface it's tearing her up inside. Since she doesn't know what happened, she's been blaming some people — and there are a couple of people to blame. Namely, her mom and dad, neither of whom really handled the situation well.

Noah: I wasn't crazy about Noah (for reasons which will be mentioned below). However, he has a lot of good qualities — despite his "stereotypical tough guy" facade, he actually really cares about his brothers and his friends. It's sad what he had to go through, but it's great to see how much family means to him. It's also rewarding to watch him opening up to Echo and letting himself love her, since he usually suppresses his emotions and/or covers them up with sex. I liked that he was willing to reach out to Echo and get to know her. He doesn't care very much about what other people think (for instance, what his friends think about him dating Echo), which is also admirable.

His voice occasionally lapses into the overly poetic, but for the most part he sounds fairly authentic for a teen guy (complete with swearing and a general ineloquence about expressing himself).

Echo & Noah: The romance worked on some levels for me, but not entirely. It's a slow-burn romance at first, and the sexual tension is done really well. In some ways their relationship is a lot like Alex's and Brittany's from Perfect Chemistry. However, the romance itself lost some of its appeal for me once they started dating, mainly because of Noah's Neanderthal-like "manly instincts." He's got a bit of a possessive streak, always thinking of Echo as "his girl" or "his siren," etc. Also, this is a personal preference, but I really didn't like the way he called her "baby." (I'm sorry, some people may find it sweet or affectionate or whatever, but it just makes me cringe and think feminist thoughts.)

In a way Noah and Echo balance each other out pretty well. For Echo, Noah is someone who can protect her, and also someone she feels she can count on. He's a bit rough around the edges, and he challenges her and sparks something inside her that guys like Luke never did. And she can stick up for herself with him. However, I think sometimes he pushes her a bit too hard, and doesn't realize how much his words can hurt her.

The friends: Grace bugged me — she cared way too much about status and reputation and wasn't really a friend at all to Echo. Both Grace and Natalie could have used some more dimension, but Lila I liked. She sticks with Echo through thick and thin, and I have to admire her for that. She's really focused on Echo's wellbeing, and she doesn't ever try to make it all about herself. Furthermore, she understands how much support Echo needs and how fragile Echo is. In essence, she's a great best friend.

I thought Noah's friends Isaiah and Beth were more distinctive characters than Natalie and Grace. Isaiah's a really good friend to have in a pinch, and even though Beth comes across as thorny and prickly at first, she's got a soft side (even if she doesn't want to admit it).

Echo's parents:

I didn't like her dad very much. Well, I really didn't like him at the beginning, and by the end I was feeling slightly more charitable towards him. He made some major mistakes, but he seemed to care about Echo and her wellbeing. He's not the greatest dad, but not the worst one either. (His wife Ashley, on the other hand, I didn't like from the start and it stayed that way.)

As for Echo's mom, I think she really has a lot to answer for. I feel like even though the mom has some excuse for her behaviour, what she did later when she met with Echo was not at all what a loving mother should have done. She should have taken more responsibility for her actions, especially considering that she had made what appears to be a selfish choice and it had serious repercussions for Echo. I ended up feeling quite mad at the mom; I don't know how someone could do that to their child. (Major spoilers, highlight to read: I know she was in a deep depression when this happened and she didn't really have control of her actions at that point but A) she shouldn't have gone off the meds and B) when she met up with Echo in the cemetery, she should have said something different. Instead she kept all her emotions at distance, didn't want to talk about what happened, and it wasn't what Echo needed at all for closure. You'd think the mom would have been devastated by what she'd done to her daughter, but instead she just wanted to blame it all on her mental illness and shrug it off. Perhaps her decision to go off the meds was influenced by her bipolar disorder, but you'd think if she'd been on them for a significant period of time, her symptoms would have been mostly under control. I think the only reason she stopped taking her medication is because she wanted her creativity back, and it sounds like this was not the first time she'd gone off them, so I suspect she knew full well what she was getting herself into.)


Pushing the Limits provides an excellent portrayal of the difficulty of living with a bipolar parent. Echo feels so torn about her mother. In one way, she loves her and she has good memories of her mom (some of her best memories are of when her mom was in her manic phase), but then she's also scared of her mom, and confused about why her mom would try to hurt her. And that, too, she attributes to her mom's bipolar disorder. Plus, because she looks a lot like her mom and they share an artistic streak, she's worried that's going to translate into her being bipolar too.

I wish Echo could have been told more about her mom's bipolar, and we could have gotten a better glimpse into what her mom was going through, and why she acted the way she did. We don't really get Echo's mom's side of it — namely, because the mom isn't willing to tell it, which is one thing that really frustrated me about her character. Still, I think someone should have sat down with Echo and talked to her more about bipolar disorder. 

And then of course there's the matter of Echo's scars, and everyone judging her. I thought there might actually be more specifically about the scars than there was — she never actually describes them or stares at them herself, although perhaps she's gotten used to them.

The therapist, Mrs. Collins, is very non-thereotically-oriented. She asks a lot of questions, but doesn't really come off as any specific type of approach (like client-centered or CBT, etc.). Mostly she just wants to know how things are going with Echo and Noah. We also see a bit of hypnotism in here too, which is interesting. I'm kind of conflicted about them attempting to pull Echo's memories out. While I understand that Echo wants to know what happened, hypnotic retrieval of memories is really something you should approach with caution. Admittedly, the therapist does this for the most part; she tries to perform the hypnosis in a safe space and she's there with Echo while she's being confronted with all these memories. I have to wonder if maybe it would be better if Echo didn't remember anything at all, but obviously this suppression of memories (causing what feels like a "black hole" in her mind) isn't working for her. She's clearly got some post-traumatic stress disorder — not surprisingly, after what she endured.  


This book is compelling in a surprising way. The romance is an essential element, but there are also a lot of "issues" that are handled well for the most part. The mystery of what happened to Echo that night she can't remember gives the story some direction, and keeps you wanting to read.

That said, there is a part in the book where the general plot lags, and there's not much going on besides the romance. There's also quite a bit of repetition in the kinds of conversations that Echo and Noah have — usually it's either "I need to find out what happened" or "I love my brothers" or "Let's make out." Since the book is fairly long, I think some of these conversations could have been condensed or eclipsed into each other.

I felt good about how things were resolved in the Noah-and-his-brothers storyline. He makes an important decision that allows him to do what he wants in the future. (Spoilers: I'm glad that he realized his brothers were better off with the foster parents. While I admired his tenacity in wanting to keep his promise of having his brothers live with him, ultimately he made the mature decision. His life is his own, he can go on to college, and he won't feel tied down to his brothers. I think he could have grown to resent them if he'd tried to get his brothers back, because they'd be preventing him from doing what he really wanted to with his life.)
Both Echo and Noah end up in a pretty good place, and I was pleased about that because they have both been through a lot and deserve some breaks for once. However, I thought it was just a little too much of a happy ending — almost everything gets resolved nicely, and it's rather drawn out. Spoilers: Echo's relationship with Ashley starts to get repaired, she's on much better terms with her dad, she and Noah both get scholarships to the same college, he can see his brothers whenever he wants, and they're going on a trip to Colorado. Basically, there are several conversations with some kinda cheesy emotional bonding going on. Also, it's a shame that we don't get a bit of closure with Mrs. Collinsit's like she drops out at the end.

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. I thought it was overly stretched out, without enough substance (there was a heavy focus on the romance) and too much repetition in the conversations. But, on the whole I enjoyed reading it and found the psychology quite interesting.

Note: There is some mature language/content in this book.

Disclaimer: I received this as an e-book through Netgalley.

This book counts towards my goals for the Debut Author reading challenge and the Just Contemporary reading challenge.



  1. I also thought this book was a little long-it seemed like every possible problem that could be imagined was stuffed into the book and personally I like a bit more humor. Thanks for this great in-depth review!

  2. I had similar thoughts as you on this one, Danya. I thought it had a bit too much drama and yeah, Noah's pet names for Echo bugged me too.


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