Echo has no memories of the event that left her arms horribly scared. Once part of the popular crowd, she now hides away from the rumours flying around school about her. Her so-called friends think if she would only get back together with her ex-boyfriend, Luke, everything would go back to normal. But for Echo, all she wants to know is what really happened to her so that she can fill the black hole inside.

Noah has been in foster care since his parents died in a fire. He was separated from his younger brothers and wants nothing more than to be a family again. He knows what the system is like and he can’t leave them to suffer but can an 18 year old boy really become a single father? At school, he’s an outcast, known for a string of one-night stands, until he and Echo are forced together and he gets a glimpse of the broken girl underneath the girl he thought was stuck-up.

Luke used to give me butterflies. Noah spawned mutant pterodactyls.

The overriding theme of Pushing the Limits is a desire to be normal, whatever normal may be. Both Echo and Noah have been struck by tragedy more than once. Echo lost her brother to the war, her mother to mental illness and her popularity to an event she can’t even remember. It’s incredibly frustrating for her that no one will just tell her but her on-going therapy is realistic and there is no sudden revelation. Noah not only lost his parents, but also access to his remaining family, his brothers that he loves so much and, like Echo, has also lost the acceptance of his peers.

After the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure if I was going to love it as it starts off with typical school politics on the battlefield that is the cafeteria, but as soon as Echo and Noah started their awkward friendship, I was hooked. Every character has their flaws and, what seem like stereotypes at the start, get prised apart as little truths come out. Every moment of honesty seems like a success and Echo starts to see that her world isn’t black and white; there are things she is too self-absorbed to understand. And yes, teenagers in general are self-absorbed so this isn’t a criticism of her as a character, more that her growing awareness echoes her steps to becoming an adult.

Whilst Echo’s overcoming tragedy story is not uncommon in young adult fiction, it was good to see the topic of custody tackled. There are thousands of young adults that do take on the role of caregivers, whether or not their parents are still alive, and Katie McGarry highlights the stark reality of what it involves. Life in the system has made Noah grow up faster than other kids but he has to grow up a lot more before he can really see what’s in front of him.

The central relationship is a gripping rollercoaster ride, whilst moments may be predictable I was never sure if they’d get their happy ending or not. After all, how many of us have normal? I loved Noah character except half way through he started calling Echo baby all the time and it just sound insincere. Maybe this is just my older, more cynical mind but wish it had been toned down a bit. These teenagers swear, drink, smoke pot and have sex. It’s refreshing not to skirt around the things that everyone knows is going on without endorsing the behaviour. Contemporary young adult writing at its best.

Pushing the Limits is published in the UK by MIRA Ink and will be available to buy in paperback and ebook editions on 3rd August 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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