Book: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (will be released on July 31 by Harlequin Teen)
Summary: Echo can't remember the night she almost died, when she earned her horrible scars and the restraining order that keeps her mother away from her. Noah is a foster kid who has been through a series of terrible homes after the death of his parents, but he is determined to gain custody of his two little brothers when he turns 18. They should both be golden, but life has left them damaged. When they meet through their clinical social worker, Mrs. Collins, they might be exactly what they both needs to get them through the worst parts of life.
Characters: Echo and Noah are two of my new favorite characters. Echo is smart and funny, but she's also scared and scarred and vulnerable. She's not only struggling with understanding what happened to her, but she's terrified that she is bi-polar, like her mom. Noah is tough on the outside, but only out of necessity. When someone becomes important to him--like Echo or his brothers--he will do anything for them, putting them before himself every single time. I read an e-galley on my kindle and the formatting was messed up so there was no indicator to mark when we switched narrators. The only reason I mention this is because the voices were so distinct that I always knew when the switch happened within two sentences.
There are too many characters to talk about them all, but I'll hit some of the highlights. Every single one of the characters was well drawn and well developed, even Aries, Echo's dead brother who only exists in memory. Echo's father is controlling and strict, but it's clear that he is struggling with guilt over what happened to Echo and that it is his messed up way of showing that he loves her. Isaac and Beth were friends-as-family for Noah. They both had lives just as messed up as Noah's, but they cared about each other and looked out for each other. Beth's story will come out in 2013 under the title Dare You To, and seriously, I can not wait, although I did tweet Katie McGarry begging her for more Isaac.
Echo's mom is probably one of the worst mothers ever and completely selfish, but she is not evil... just broken on the inside. There are plenty of character like this and it reminded me of what Noah and Echo could become if they don't deal with the terrible things that have happened to them. Luckily, Echo's mom is balanced by Mrs. Collins, their social worker/counselor who is determined to help Echo and Noah. She keeps her promises, is tough, and never backs down. She lets them make their own decisions and takes the time--whether it is an hour or weeks or months--to get them to understand why the adults in their life want them to make certain choices. Every person deserves a Mrs. Collins in their life, but she's the kind of person who is so often missing from great stories. She ties Isaac for my favorite non-narrator character.
Plot/Pacing: A lot of times it feels like contemporaries move slower, because it is more about the internal journey, but Pushing the Limits moves fast. We get these intense journeys for both Echo and Noah, but at the same time, there is a ton going on for both of them. Not only is Echo dealing with the loss of her brother (death) and mother (restraining order), but she's obsessed with fixing up her brothers old car, her dad is expecting a new baby with her old nanny, and she has decided to give her old social scene a try. Noah is obsessed with getting custody of his brothers, but he's still dealing with the death of his parents, protecting Beth from her mother's abusive boyfriends, and working a full time job.
There is a ton going on for both of them and they think the answers can be found in Mrs. Collins file. In fact, much of the story is centered around them trying to break into her files, which added a goal to a story that I would have read anyway. It always felt like both characters had a lot to lose and I cried a lot. The book played me and I loved every minute of it.
Moments I Loved: Okay, there are SO MANY FREAKING MOMENTS that I could write about here. BUT... my favorite moment is when Noah takes Echo out on a date for the first time. Her dad hears that he's a foster kid and kind of shuts down, thinking that this guy is bad news. Then, when he realizes that Noah isn't repulsed or ashamed by Echo's scars, something Echo's father has never been able to get past himself, he extends Echo's curfew. Since Echo's dad is super strict (crazy strict!), I can't think of a better way to show that he trusts Noah and wants someone who actually cares about his daughter in her life.
WTF Moments: Echo's old boyfriend (not Noah) brings her on a date to see a war movie where a soldier is killed by an IED within the first few minutes. Yes, bring the girl who is grieving for her marine brother who was killed by an IED to the war movie. There aren't words bad enough to describe how I felt about this boy during this scene.
Overall: I cried throughout most of this book and loved every minute of it. Noah and Echo are amazing characters within a sea of amazing characters in really tough situations. I'm officially a fan of Katie McGarry and plan on reading everything she writes, ever.
Reading Challenges: This book counts toward the following challenges: 384 pages toward the 15,000 page challenge, e-book reading challenge, and NetGalley Knockdown. Track all my progress on my 2012 Challenges page.
Pushing the Limits gets a Fake Steph rating of...