You might remember Jennifer Waldo’s name from earlier in this series, where she guest posted, quite eloquently, about the Divergent series and then the Pure series. She has one more YA book response in store for us, this time regarding Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits.
I have to admit, I was embarrassed to buy this book because the title and the cover looked so…cheesy. But my own YA novel “pushes limits” on things like sex and I wanted to see what was out there in the market.
Honestly! I bought this for research…and then I fell in love with it.
The synopsis of the story, below, is not why I fell in love with the book. The plot is fairly weak, a framing device to push the characters closer or to heighten tension. But what McGarry does in between those little nudges takes us on a journey from darkness to light, confusion to understanding. The character descriptions aren’t even that unique, but there’s a strong and definite arc that’s believable and well-supported by the events in the story.
What’s most impressive about the writing, and the reason why I fell in love with the book, is that McGarry is able to give distinct voices to Echo and Noah as they alternate POVs by chapter. I could hear them, practically see them in front of me. The depth of what they feel, think, and do, felt so real and honest. It’s a coming-of-age story fraught with the complicated nature of becoming independent from your parents and learning to cope with tragedy and the inexplicable nature of life. Even the side characters are three-dimensional and jump off the page. Little details help flesh out what could be a smarmy teen drama.
So it’s almost an injustice to break the book down into a description of parts, because the way it comes together is beautiful and satisfying and even cathartic.
The story follows Echo and Noah, two teenagers who have experienced recent traumas that have sent them from normal to outcast. Echo disappeared before the end of her sophomore year and when she returned junior year, she was wearing long sleeves and completely introverted. She wouldn’t say what happened and rumors ran rampant that she was a cutter or tried to commit suicide. To top it all off, her older brother had gotten killed while serving in Afghanistan during the same time period.
Noah is new to the school but carries a huge reputation as a one-night stand man-whore and complete stoner. Only a couple of people know that he’s also a foster kid.
Enter Mrs. Collins, the new guidance counselor, who’s also a “clinical social worker” intent on gaining their trust and helping them help themselves to better their situations. She wants to help Echo remember what happened on the night when she went to visit her mother and ended up with scars all over her arms. She wants to help Noah gain more visitation rights with his younger brothers, which requires better grades, less violence, and no drugs.
In an attempt to support Echo’s grieving process, Mrs. Collins sets her up with an after-school tutoring job to help fund a repair of the dead brother’s car. The student in need of tutoring? You guessed it…Noah.
At first they hate each other. He’s an asshole to her because he thinks she’s a rich snob. She’s mean to him because she thinks he’s a stoner slut. Of course there’s also the irritation of an inexplicable physical attraction between them. She smells good to him; his body captivates her. But they agree on one thing: Mrs. Collins holds the information they need to move forward, and they conspire together to sneak into their files. Along the way, they learn about each other’s histories and are able to share their pain and find compassion in each other.
Terrified, they realize they’re falling in love with each other. Love is something they both lost and are still missing, and they don’t trust it in each other. Echo is certain Noah will freak out about her scars and her mental instability. Noah doesn’t know how to love both his brothers, whom he wants custody of, and Echo.
You’ll have to read it to find out the rest. It’s worth it!
Jennifer Waldo has been writing and directing for film and video for the last ten years, including the short video SISTERS now in post production. A lifelong writer and photographer, Jennifer began her career working in the documentary/educational film industry of her hometown, Washington, DC. She graduated from the Quaker school Sidwell Friends and went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts with honors in English at Oberlin College. Wanting to hone her skills as a filmmaker, Jennifer spent three years earning her MFA in Film Production at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where she won the Edward Small Directing Scholarship for her existentialist film ROOM 119 (2001) and wrote and directed her 35mm USC graduate thesis SEARCHING FOR ANGELS (2006). After graduating USC in the spring of 2004, Jennifer’s thesis film screened at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles as part of the April 2006 First Look Festival. Working in Houston, Texas, over the last few years, Jennifer completed a set of twelve educational videos for a local Montessori School and EVERYTHING BEGINS AT B.I.R.T.H. (2007) about non-profit organization BIRTH founded by midwives. Jennifer’s romantic comedy screenplay HONEYMOON ADVENTURERS was selected as a “Screwball Comedy” Finalist in the Broad Humor Screenplay Contest in July 2006 and her feature-length script adaptation of SEARCHING FOR ANGELS was a quarter-finalist in the 2008American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. In November 2008, Jennifer won the “NaNoWriMo” writing challenge with an 85,000-word novel written over a 30 day period. In addition to writing and directing, Jennifer is also a producer, most recently working on the independent feature film THE PREACHER’S DAUGHTER (2012), showing on Lifetime. Jennifer produced several USC graduate thesis films including the festival favorites UNSYNCABLES AT ANY AGE (2003), FIST OF IRON CHEF (2004), and PEBBLES (2005), as well as the A.C.E.-sponsored HD documentary THE CUTTING EDGE: THE MAGIC OF MOVIE EDITING (2004). Jennifer currently teaches filmmaking at Houston Community College’s Audio Recording and Filmmaking Department, Spring Branch Campus. She is also a longtime member of Women in Film in Los Angeles, California.
To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.
The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.