Book Review: Pushing the Limits

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Author: Katie McGarry
ISBN: 9781921796845
RRP:$19.99

I loved this book! It brought me to tears many more times than any book I have read recently. This is another book I have been anticipating eagerly since its release late last year and I can safely say it was definitely worth the wait.


This book touched me quite deeply which I wasn’t really expecting and I can’t say for sure whether it was just the timing because I was in quite a fragile sibling related frame of mind when I picked up Pushing The Limits.

Katie McGarry has written an emotional and gripping debut that explores loss, heartbreak, mental illness and the horrors of high school hierarchy. We have all been there, we all know that high school can be tough when you are trying to excel, make friends and become one of the popular crowd.

The problem facing our protagonists in Pushing The Limits is that they both belonged to the popular crowd until their worlds fell apart and now they are trying to move forward and put the pieces back together – not exactly as they were but as close as possible.

Pushing The Limits is written by both Echo and Noah in alternating chapters, often I find this a little difficult to get my head around but not this time. The alternating chapters did not rehash the same events but did offer deeper insights into the lives of Echo and Noah, an insight that would be much difficult to offer with just one point of view.

Echo Emerson wants life to go back to ‘normal’ but Noah doesn’t believe there’s any such thing for people like them. Echo has always been a talented high-achiever, her grades are excellent and her art simply amazing. Her friends included the head cheerleader, she was dating a jock and she was on the dance team. All of that changed when she missed a month of school at the end of sophomore year. The Echo Emerson that returned junior year strongly resembled her name, as she came back an echo of her former self. She is totally withdrawn; from the dance team, the art contest and her friends. She is also wearing long sleeves when the weather calls for anything but so the high school grapevine and rumour mongers go to town, helping Echo retreat further into her shell.

Noah Hutchins was also a talented student until he lost his parents in a fire and was moved into foster care, separate from his two younger brothers. The system hasn’t been kind to him and before long he is labelled emotionally unstable which affects the access he has to his brothers. It almost seems that it just gets too hard and he turns to getting high which is a little stereotypical.

Noah has dreams of gaining custody of his brothers after graduation to save them from the dangers of the foster care system. I think his determination to get his brothers back is coloured by his own experiences with foster care so he can’t imagine that they would be better off anywhere but with him.

Mrs Collins is the new clinical social worker who begins working with both Echo and Noah at school in their senior year. It is Mrs Collins who puts the two together for tutoring purposes. They are completely different people and seemingly from different worlds but that doesn’t stop the sparks from flying. Much about this romance is predictable and you could see that they would end up together from their first meeting but that didn’t take anything away from my enjoyment.

My deep appreciation for this novel comes from watching the growth of both Noah and Echo. Noah needs to learn to trust again, he has been failed by the system that was supposed to protect him and the only way for him to move forward and have any chance of better access to his brothers is if he plays by the rules and works with Mrs Collins, but first he needs to learn to trust her.

Echo is haunted by memories that she has repressed, of a night that changed her life forever, a night she almost didn’t survive. Last time she tried to access the memories it almost broke her so now she’s torn between needing to fill the holes in her memory and being terrified of shattering what’s left of her mind in the process.

Family plays a huge role in the drama of this story and I think that’s what touched me the deepest. The love that Noah has for his parents and his brothers, the responsibility he feels for his brothers and the guilt he carries for not being able to save them and keep them all together broke my heart. His commitment to saving them from the system was admirable and the idea that he thought he knew what he was up against and was happy to limit himself to a life flipping burgers for the sake of his brothers warmed my heart, and the culmination of this storyline brought me to tears, which is all I’ll say because I don’t want to include spoilers.

Echo’s entire situation revolves around her family. Her parent’s divorce, her mother’s illness, her father’s remarriage and the loss of her older brother. Anyone who has lost a sibling will understand and be able to empathise with Echo’s fragility in this area. Many times her pain brought me to tears, understanding as I do that the loss of a big brother is a pain that never goes away.

All Echo has ever wanted is to be loved and she has spent all of her life trying to please everyone around her so that they will love her, which was difficult with her parents as they wanted such different things for her. Aires was the only exception because he loved her unconditionally, he was the big brother there to protect her and keep her safe and when she lost him she lost that security that comes with unconditional love.

Memories are at the centre of Echo’s journey but she is also learning that she needs to live life to please herself. She will never be able to please everyone around her so she needs to be true to herself and allow others to accept that or walk away. This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn, especially when those closest to us can’t accept us unconditionally.

I love that McGarry has taken two teens and given them overwhelming situations to overcome. These are everyday teens but their issues are far from ordinary. I can not wait to see what she has in store for us in the sequels.

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