The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Come Back In Tears, O Memory (review: Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry)

Pushing the Limits
Katie McGarry
Mira Ink 2012

Echo is lost in the wake of tragedy and violence, auto-piloting her way through life in a haze of intangible memories and all too tangible scars.  Fighting to get back to her old life she no longer knows who she is, or what happened to Echo as was.  As she struggles to remember, her family suffocates her and her counsellor insists that this is a journey that Echo must make on her own.  In order to avoid her increasingly domineering father, Echo finds herself stuck with tutoring slacker Noah – another of her counsellor’s charges and a boy who she would rather stay away from.  Noah, equally, has little time for Echo despite the fact that both their lives have been irrevocably changed by situations far from their control.  However, Noah is not a guy to miss an opportunity and after initially antagonising her, he quickly ropes Echo into a scheme that will alter both their view of the past and the path of their futures.

Echo is an exceptionally emotive character.  Her confusion, sense of betrayal and utter hopelessness are embedded in her every thought, action and word and the combination of this and the inability of her friends and family to cope with her situation is desperately sad.  Her narrative voice is strong and her actions are always believably impulsive, be they driven by rebellion against her father and stepmother or pain in regards to her mother and brother.  Her initial reaction towards Noah is interesting to read and her subsequent willingness to take part in his ill-conceived plan actually makes more sense on her part than it does on his. Their tentative friendship is an example of the solace that damaged souls can find in each other but also of the lack of objectivity that they provide each other with.

Noah is, in one way, as well written a character as Echo.  His story is both moving and believable with his slide from straight-A student to bad boy ringing as true as his determination to remedy a situation that he sees as desperately unfair.  His concern for his younger brothers is palpable on every page and his longing to care for them is again very moving.  However, Noah is smart – this becomes clear very quickly – and this means that is somewhat hair-brained plan loses believability far before it is actually resolved. Additionally, where Echo’s narrative voice is that of a believable teen, Noah can slip-slide into romantic cliché.  His continued reference to sylphs and sirens detracts from what is otherwise a great portrayal of a teenage boy in conflict.

The writing in Pushing the Limits is generally (previous points withstanding) very good and certainly a welcome addition to contemporary YA.  In addition to Noah and Echo, other characters give the story depth and pathos with Echo’s father and the lurking presence of her mother being particularly worthy of mention.  What McGarry achieves beautifully is an increasing tension that bubbles continually under Noah, Echo and their relationship. The idea of lost memory has been explored before but McGarry’s vision of a girl adrift in the haze of her past is arresting to say the least.  Additionally, her portrayal of high school teenagers being completely ill-equipped to deal with their damaged friend is both hard to read and utterly convincing. Certainly Katie McGarry is a welcome new voice in contemporary YA, with a hint of the mystery writer about her.  An utterly compelling story, Pushing the Limits is most definitely worth a read and introduces a writer who will no doubt bring us some interesting stories in the future.  Recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Pushing the Limits is available in all good bookstores now. Thank you to the publisher for providing us with this title to review.


Oh how I heart your review. I've been dying to read this book for quite some time now - and really can't wait to meet Noah and Echo, who both sound like characters worth getting to know. I'm especially curious to see what my experience with Noah's character is like, considering that he seems to be smarter than the average teen. Great review Sya!
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