Beautifully written, very moving, YA contemporary romance
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: November 26, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 496 pages
Source: Amazon Vine
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Rachel and Isaiah are both 17, but they are years apart in hard, life experience, and they are also a year apart in school, with Rachel a junior and Isaiah a senior. Isaiah has been in the foster-care system since he was six years old. Unknown to his social worker, Isaiah is currently living with his best friend Noah (the hero from McGarry’s first book in this series, Pushing the Limits), who at 18 has aged out of the foster-care system. Isaiah’s foster parents allow him to live independently as long as he stays out of trouble with the law and they can keep claiming their monthly checks from the state in payment for presumably having him live in their home. Isaiah has been endlessly exposed to the dark side of life in the bad part of town during the past decade, but in spite of all that, he rarely drinks, doesn’t do drugs or smoke, and he resists all temptation to turn to criminal activities, such as dealing drugs or stealing cars, in order to make enough money to survive.
In contrast, Rachel is the pampered daughter of a prosperous, upper-middle-class family. Her four older brothers and her mother and father all treat her as if she were made of spun glass. Several years ago, a public-speaking assignment triggered terrible panic attacks which became bad enough that she spent the night in the hospital, and for a while afterward she regularly went to a therapist. Two things have kept her, in the years since, from overcoming the crippling case of social anxiety which continues to induce panic attacks. First, she already feels smothered by her overprotective family, and if they knew she still has such deep-rooted anxiety, they would ratchet up their all-encompassing care to the point that she’d feel as if she were locked in a padded cell. Second, and most importantly, her mother has never gotten over losing Rachel’s sister to leukemia a few months before Rachel and her twin brother Ethan were born. Rachel has felt her whole life that it is her assigned job in the family to replace the lost daughter by being a clone of her, thereby keeping her mother happy–or at least preventing her mother from falling into a month-long, grief-based depression every January, shortly after the dead daughter’s birthday in December. Rachel experiences her life as a constant, exhausting performance, and that it will never be all right for her to reveal to her mother who she really is. She is not the frilly, girly girl her mother wants, but a wannabe mechanic of fast cars. The only moments in Rachel’s life when she is truly herself are when she manages to briefly escape her gilded cage, sneaking out, with her twin Ethan covering for her, and driving at high speeds on back roads in her Mustang GT.
As a result of intense, familial insulation, Rachel is abnormally naive. She has never kissed a boy, because she has never dated. If Rachel’s own shyness weren’t enough to turn away any boy who is interested in her, the menacing attitude of her four brothers would do the job. Until the night that Isaiah comes into her life.
Rachel is shaken to the core after giving a short speech to a leukemia charity–another attempt to be the Good Girl that Rachel feels her mother and her family need her to be to prop up her mother. As a means to recover from the trauma, she sneaks away, with Ethan’s help, and goes for a long, fast drive in her Mustang. While stopping to get gas, she runs into former high school classmates of her older brothers, and they bring her with them to an illegal drag race, where she is pitted against Isaiah in a race. Suddenly, Isaiah hears police sirens. When everyone flees but Rachel, Isaiah ignores his own safety to help her escape. She returns the favor when he, soon after, blows a tire, by giving him a ride in her car. In the following, three, highly compressed hours they spend together, they both encounter something neither had imagined would come their way: a kindred spirit who is loyal and true, an ideal friend, and potentially so much more.
This third book in the Pushing the Limits series by talented young-adult author, Katie McGarry, is a worthy addition to a highly emotional, extremely well-written, contemporary-romance series. Like the previous two books, there is a powerful subplot of family and social drama beneath the central, romantic plot. In addition, with each successive book, McGarry ratchets up the thrilling action, to the point that, if this were an adult romance, it might be classified as “romantic suspense,” because there are not merely very flawed parents who are antagonists to the protagonists, but some scary villains as well.
This book is told from alternating first-person points of view of the heroine and hero, just as McGarry did for her other books. I hope she continues writing in this fashion. It allows readers to intimately know her wonderful, endearing heroes as well as her highly sympathetic heroines.
The romance plot itself is extremely well done. It is tender and sweet, with poignantly rendered sexual tension. Nothing is ever crude or coarse between the two protagonists. Though on the surface Rachel and Isaiah seem very different, it is clear that on the inside, where it counts, they are made for each other, not least of which in their shared passion for cars. Though each suffers from low self-esteem due to their life circumstances, both have a strong, inner core, and together they amplify each other into bigger and better people than they were able to manage in their separate lives.
Finally, the writing, in general, for this book is superb, highly polished, and essentially flawless. This is romance writing at its very best, a book that will be enjoyed by romance fans ranging in age from teens to adults.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Social/Family Drama Plot: 5
Reviewer Note: I received a review copy of this book through Amazon Vine, and Harlequin Teen actually provided copies of the hardcover version which will soon be on sale. I therefore was able to see how gorgeously this book has been designed. In addition to the paper, dust jacket that goes over the book, the book itself has a casebound, printed, graphic cover that matches the dust jacket. This is one of the more high-quality hardcover editions I’ve seen in the teen market or any other. A real collector’s item.