Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits, #1) - Katie McGarry

Grace sidled up beside me and whispered, 'This was huge, Echo. If Luke's into you again, life will change. Who he talks to and dates changes everyone's opinion. Maybe things will finally get back to normal.' ... 'Luke may love me, but he's not exactly thoughtful.' [...] 'True. He's self-absorbed and has a one-track mind [...]. But you have feelings for him.'

As a small girl I used to love the few stanzas I snapped up of a tragic, traditional ballad about a prince and a princess in love who were first divided by an uncrossable river and then by the death of the boy who braved the waters to be united with his beloved. Stories of bitter-sweet love blossoming against the odds have always held a certain appeal to me. And when I read and enjoyed i.e. 'Perfect Chemistry', I found that I didn't even mind the occasional extra layer of exaggeration and fluffy drama that accompanies them. But there is a line. I need some flimsy anchor to reality at least, more or less realistic characters with realistic, consistent traits, feelings and reactions, mostly.
I have to out myself as someone who has never trodden on American High School grounds. That means I usually stretch my imagination pretty far from what I have experienced during my own teenage years on the old continent and make allowances for all the things completely foreign to me - proms, home rooms, purity issues, the fixation on sports and athletic superiority, the hierarchies, the groups, the unwritten lunch room rules, the rich and mighty who more or less glow in the dark. Yet, here I cannot refrain from pointing out the eerily plastic figurines that make up the horrible cast of the soapless soap called "Pushing the Limits" and their unbelievably strange demeanor. This story is pushing my limits indeed.

It begins already with the premises. For the sake of her own psychological healing heroine Echo is denied the "truth" about what happened to her the night that left her with horribly scarred underarms by both her father and her school therapist. She lost her memory but knows that somehow her mentally ill mother must have been involved, for she has been forbidden to contact her since. Not knowing anything means for Echo that she has no ground on which to deflect the accusatory or morbidly interested stares and whispers of her classmates, who also had not been briefed by anyone before Echo's return to school and consequently assume "failed suicide attempt". In order to completely sever her connection to her artist mother - who is her mother after all - Echo's father, who pushes his daughter to better and better results at school because he wants her to study economics, has forbidden her to attend her beloved art class. Apart from hard-core meddling with her life-defining choices, Daddy isn't really interested. He is busy fondling the pregnant belly of his second wife, Echo's former full-time babysitter, and responding to his Blackberry's beeps. The therapist, who is otherwise described as being of the caring, experienced, no-nonsense sort, doesn't get it at all that her squirming patient is not free to answer freely in the presence of her parents. What kind of therapist is that? What kind of therapy waits for a patient's memory to come back on its own, but removes all anchors to it? At that point I was already silently screaming along with Echo, who narrates her part with an overly snarky, sassy, judgemental voice that doesn't fit her passive, submissive actions in the least.

Noah's case is similarly strange. His parents died in a burning house, which made him and his brothers orphans. In contrast to him, who plays the survival game against abusive, violent adults fostering kids for monetary reasons, the younger boys were lucky enough to be placed into the hands of a loving couple. A couple, who selfishly presses for an adoption and for the termination of Noah's visiting rights - because of his obvious bad influence. Nobody believes Mother-Theresa-Robin-Hood-crossbreed Noah, that he had attacked his brutal foster father only to save another kid. In order to tarnish the intelligent, athletic saint with a proper, shady sheen, the author selected a pot habit and a reputation of sleeping around as persona add-ons. Having occasional sex with willing females in this book automatically equals not being able to love 'You don't love people. You have sex with them. So how could you want to be with me?'. Which in turn is labeled as "not normal". Since "normal" is the goal glove-wearing Echo has to achieve to call her friends friends again, Noah is a big no-no-no 'Yes ... no ... I don't know. I want normal, Noah. Can you give me normal?'.

This leads us to the weirdest portrayal in this limitless young adult wonder: Echo's friends and the life-or-death-question of belonging to the High School caste that counts. Grace, who has tentatively resumed connections to part-time leper Echo, urges her to give-in to Luke's (re)advances (see quote on top). We are speaking here of ultra-jerk Luke, Echo's cast-off, popular-for-no-valid-reason boyfriend, who had pressured her for sex, who 'had' to satisfy his boyish needs elsewhere because of her ongoing reluctance, who is pressuring her now again - which seems to be perfectly acceptable because of his professed "love" for her - and who takes her to watch a contemporary war movie, although it is no secret that her brother died in action. All of Echo's so-called friends are mean, devoid of compassion, hierarchy-obsessed and offer their friendship bound to conditions. That Echo takes their childish stance and their suggestions seriously destroys the picture of above-average intelligence and witty insight the author tries to sell so hard of her. Echo is dense beyond belief. And the "real" good guy is too easy to spot.

Apart from the bad image the book conveys of clueless social workers and psychologists, there is definitely something off in the medication department: Echo is not only supposed to heal herself without working things out with her institutionalized mother, she is also forced to beg her dad for her prescription pills which are unnecessary in his opinion and therefore safely hidden away. A well-placed complaint to her therapist would have been probably sufficient to change the situation. But I wondered why the pills weren't in Echo's own hands in the first place. She is no toddler. She is no prisoner. In addition there is that bizarre scene in which Lila and Echo persuade her self-centered, vapid stepmother to put her on birth control (Lila's idea, by the way). Why doesn't Echo just visit a family planning center or a gynaecologist? In my country - same as in many others - the pill is free of charge for minors. And no doctor or social worker is allowed to disclose to a girl's parents her decision to take it. I refuse to accept that there are no ways in the US to elude parental consent.

Well. There are 60% of plot left that I, as a thinking owner of my life time, declare as being better off in the abandoned e-books folder of my reading device. I do not think that there will be summaries of books to come by this book's author which will lure me into having a try.

I close my case with a conversation Echo has with the ever-loving Luke, the Cute: 'Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine you'd want me back after I became the freak.' [ ...] 'I want you in again and I think the best way for you to fall is to jump. I think we should pick up where we left off. I think we should have sex.' [...] 'What?' 'Not now, but soon. I bet if we do, you'll be in again.' [...] Odd, I'd gotten my wish - I could have sex with someone who loved me - but I'd forgotten to add that I wanted to love him back. 'I don't know.' He simply smiled. 'Sleep on it.'