I just finished reading Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. On my reading list, you will notice that I’ve picked an adult and a YA selection for some of the genres. Pushing the Limits is a YA Romance. Honestly, YA is a slippery genre. Some YA stuff is appropriate for younger teens, and some are meant for college-aged adults. I would say that Pushing the Limits would be appropriate for someone 16 or older. In this review, I’m going to highlight the differences I saw between this YA romance and the adult romance, The Kiss Quotient, that I read earlier.
Our love birds in Pushing the Limits are Echo and Noah. They are both seniors in high school, and they couldn’t be more different. Echo is a somewhat popular girl and straight-A student who used to be on the dance team. Noah is a stoner who skips class more often than not. When Echo is assigned to tutor Noah, they find out that they have more in common than they thought.
Both Echo and Noah are dealing with grief, trauma and the social consequences of being different. The whole first part of this book deals more with their individual stories and challenges than it does with their burgeoning romance. McGarry gives us a lot of plot and does a great job of making you feel for what the characters are going through.
Like The Kiss Quotient, we get to read both characters’ perspectives. In Pushing the Limits, the chapters trade-off almost evenly between Echo and Noah. The author wrote Echo very convincingly, but Noah’s chapters felt a little rough.
Noah lost his parents in a tragic accident and has been in and out of abusive foster homes. He’s supposed to be a good kid who lost his way, but sometimes it was hard to see past the writing and get into his character. I felt like he was the written version of a stereotypical “bad boy” from an 80’s movie. Since I’ve never been a teenage boy, I can’t really comment on how realistic Noah’s sexualization of Echo was. It felt a little overdone to me though, and sometimes it seemed like he was objectifying her. Noah’s chapters improved as the book went on, and I did come to like him as a character, but some of the writing made me cringe.
Overall I liked the book. McGarry did an excellent job of giving the romance a reason for existing and showing how both characters were improved by it. I also thought that her handling of the heavy issues in this book, like PTSD and grief, were well done. Echo resolves her problems in a way that feels realistic and not like a contrived “everything’s better now” plot twist.
There were a few significant differences between this book and The Kiss Quotient. Most obvious was the lack of explicit sex in Pushing the Limits. All the page space taken up by sex in adult romances was used for plot, which I appreciated. Because this book was written for young people, it wasn’t just about romance. It was also a coming of age story about finding out who you are and deciding who you want to be. I think this is an important thing to keep in mind from a writing point of view. Teenagers have a lot on their plates, between schoolwork and peer pressure and family issues. It wouldn’t be realistic to have a teenage character who’s only thought in life is about dating.
In The Kiss Quotient, the tension and suspense came mainly from the romantic plot line, wondering if the characters would confess their feelings and become a real couple. Pushing the Limits was an example of a different kind of romance. Most of the tension and emotion came from the individual issues that the characters were dealing with. Their time together was, for the most part, a break for the characters from the crappy stuff they were going through. It feels that way for the reader too. There is some tension to the romance, especially when they misunderstand each other, but mostly it’s just nice to see them “onscreen” together.
I felt like this book was a good counterpoint to The Kiss Quotient. There are many ways to write a romance, and Pushing the Limits was a very different example of the genre. This book would be a great one to take pointers from if you are writing a sub-plot romance. The way McGarry builds the relationship out of all the other stuff going on in the characters lives could work well in other types of stories.
I’ve enjoyed my foray into romance more than I thought I would. Next, I’m going to delve into horror, starting with The Shining by Stephan King.
Have you read Pushing the Limits? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought!