“Pushing the Limits”—A Book Review

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Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry is deceptively deep and raw. From the somewhat raunchy cover and generic summary on the back of the book, I thought this novel would be some cheesy, but entertaining, love story. I was SO wrong. So here’s what the book is really about:

Echo used to be popular. She had all the right friends, impressive extracurricular activities, the perfect sports star boyfriend. But her entire high school status was changed by the tragic events on one life-shattering night. It wasn’t bad enough that she lost her brother due to the war in Afghanistan, but on top of that she now has hideous scars claiming the skin of her arms and has no idea how they got there. Her body has repressed the memories of what took place that night to keep her fragile mind safe.  All she knows is that rumors fly fast in furious in the high school social world and that there is a restraining order in place against her bipolar mother.

Like Echo, Noah used to have it all, the right friends, a fierce and promising future in basketball, and a loving family. But after a fire claimed the lives of his parents and the system took his little brothers away, life doesn’t look so hopeful to Noah. Being unjustly bounced from three different foster homes has caused Noah to feel downtrodden and hopeless. To cope, he smokes copious amounts of weed, hangs out with corrupt foster siblings, and screws any girl willing to ride that train for a night.

With some manipulation on the part of their new guidance counselor/social worker, Echo gets conned into tutoring Noah. The result? Maybe they aren’t so different after all. Both carry scars (physically and emotionally) and both have lost their families (Noah by a jacked up system, Echo due to an unstable mother and a controlling father who thinks a new wife and baby-on-the-way is the way to accomplish normalcy).

 

“My parents died. I got screwed by a system supposedly in place to protect me. Echo…Echo was betrayed by the person who should have laid down her life to protect her.”

 

Told in alternating points of view, this novel shows you that sometimes love means making the choice to do what’s best for someone else instead being selfish and choosing what’s best for you. We all have problems we must face throughout life (some people have problems that prove more difficult than others, but sometimes that’s just the hand that life deals out). This story helped me to remember that sometimes it’s hard to not get so wrapped up in your own head and problems and that unwittingly this can often blind you to the point that you don’t even realize how selfish you are being.

“I missed knowing that someone loved me, I realized I missed loving someone in return.”

I give this surprisingly insightful tale five out of five stars. I will definitely be reading more of Katie McGarry’s books.

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“The Running Dream”—A Book Review

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The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an amazingly inspirational coming-of-age novel.

Jessica was in a tragic bus crash on her way home from a high school track meet. One teammate lost her life, and Jessica lost a foot.

The story begins with Jessica waking up in the hospital and trying to come to grips with the realization of her lost limb. Being that she is a runner, Jessica feels like her world is ending:

“I am a runner. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. Running is all I know, or want, or care about.”

As anybody would, at first, Jessica just feels sorry for herself. She is completely consumed with self-pity and can’t see how she can possibly go on. The only thing she has ever truly loved—running—has been cruelly yanked out of her grasp. Is life even worth living anymore? Maybe Lucy—her teammate who was killed in the crash—was the lucky one. At least she didn’t have to try to adjust to life with running as an unattainable dream.

Soon, however, Jessica has an epiphany about life:

 “I fell off, but the merry-go-round keeps moving. Lucy died, but the merry-go-round keeps moving. Still. As much as thinking this upsets me, I’m starting to see that I need the merry-go-round much more than it needs me, and in the end my choice is to hop back on or get left in the dust.”

With this new attitude, and her self-loathing behind her, Jessica finally decides to get back up, battle life head-on, and get back to her “normal” life as much as possible. But of course, this is easier said than done.

Returning to school, Jessica faces a whole slew of new challenges, not only with being one-legged and having to figure out how to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches until she gets her prosthetic limb, but she is also confronted with the internal battle of her self-image.

It’s bad enough being a “normal” teenager. This is the time in life when you are the most vulnerable, trying to figure out exactly who you are. Up until now, Jessica has only had one way of defining herself—she is a runner. Plain and simple. But now, having to go back into the sea of her peers in the battleground known as high school, Jessica feels less sure of herself than she ever has before:

“I know it’s not my fault. I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I know it’s irrational. But still, I’m mortified. Mortified to be me.”

“It’s disturbing how fast weeds take root in my garden of worthiness.
They’re so hard to pull.
And grow back so easily.” 

When Jessica is wheeled in to her Math class on her first day back, she gets put at the “special table” at the back of the room, with the other girl in a wheelchair who has cerebral palsy, named Rosa. Jessica realizes that she has never even thought to talk to Rosa before, simply because of her condition. It was way easier to ignore her and pretend like she wasn’t there. And when Rosa offers to tutor Jessica in Math to get her caught up, Jessica realizes what an amazing and funny person Rosa is, despite her handicap.

Working with, and befriending, Rosa humbles Jessica, and helps her to realize that life could be worse, and she should stop feeling sorry for herself. Your disability doesn’t define you—you define you.

“I suddenly really get that I am lucky. I’ll never do a fifty-five flat in the 400 again, but I will stand on my own again. This wheelchair won’t be with me every day of my life.”

With the support of her family, friends, and teammates, Jessica decides not to be a victim of circumstance, and starts to hope again. And that is a beautiful thing.

“I realize something. That wasn’t a finish line for me…This is my new starting line.”

“The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight”—A Book Review

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The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith is simply a delight! This tale takes place over a twenty-four-hour-hour-period, is fast paced, and nearly impossible to put down.

Hadley is having beyond the worst day. She misses her flight to London, where she is headed to attend her father’s wedding, and she’s never even met the bride! So not only is Hadley already super cranky about having to go to her father’s wedding (when she feels so betrayed by him for being so void in her life and moving to London in the first place), but now she is stuck at the JFK airport, waiting for the next available flight, which will put her arriving in London with not a minute to spare.

While waiting for the next flight, she meets Oliver. He’s British, incredibly cute, and going to college in the U.S. Call it fate, call it happenstance, call it a coincidence, call it whatever you like, but something brought these two together again, putting them sitting next to each other on the long plane ride to the UK.

Over the course of the 7 hour trip, the two strangers get to know one another, talking about everything under the sun, and even divulging things they have never told another soul. Is it completely insane to fall in love with someone you don’t even know? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

This pulse pounding and heart-wrenching Teen novel with have you believing in the miracle of love and hope again. I guarantee you will be cheering these two young protagonists on, just as I did! I give this quick and fun read four stars!

 

As Hadley and Oliver are departing the plane and are headed to two separate Customs lines:

 “But before she can move any farther she feels a hand on her elbow, and just like that Oliver is beside her again. He looks down at her with his head tilted, his hand still firmly on her arm, and before she has a chance to be nervous, before she even fully realizes what’s happening, she hears him mummer “What the hell,” and then, to her surprise, he bends to kiss her.”

…seriously, people: Le Sigh, and also, Eeeeeap!

 

The New York Times Book Review

“A gorgeous, heartwarming reminder of the power of fate… an endearing and lushly written account of how it feels to fall in love, the unique heartbreak of parental disappointment and what it means to forgive those who’ve hurt us deeply.”