Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarry (@KatieMcGarry @HarlequinTeen)

I don’t know if you remember, but I really loved Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. It was the book that made me admit I liked reading contemporary. It was a weird realization — I was pretty sure that if there were no explosions or dragons or magic or aliens, it probably wasn’t the story for me. But nope, that’s not true at all. I loved Echo and Noah, and the beautiful, bittersweet romance that developed between them. When I heard there were going to be sequels, I was excited, but nervous that Katie would go in and introduce more drama and tension for this couple that, in one book, had enough drama and tension for a lifetime.

I needn’t have worried. Dare You To follows one of PTL’s secondary characters: Beth. And this created a whole new set of worries. Beth was an interesting character in PTL, to be sure, but did I want to read an entire book about her? She wasn’t really all that likable.

But ultimately, I decided I trusted Katie. If she could make me love contemporary, surely she could make me love Beth.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk’s home life, they’d send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom’s freedom and her own happiness. That’s how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn’t want her and going to a school that doesn’t understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn’t get her, but does….

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can’t tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn’t be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won’t let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all…

My Thoughts

When I started reading Dare You To, I was a tad on the worried side. Like Pushing the Limits, the story is told from two perspectives. We open with Ryan, and I was not too fond of him. He seemed exactly like the type of guy I steered clear of in high school. So I wasn’t sure I’d want to spend an entire book with him.

Then we moved to Beth, who was every bit as abrasive and argumentative and damaged as she was in Pushing the Limits. She made bad decisions and was self-destructive and harsh, and I was concerned.

But I knew from PTL that Katie McGarry is adept at taking characters from uncomfortable situations and making them punch me right in my tear ducts, so I persevered. It didn’t hurt that Dare You To was told with the same flowing, evocative prose that caused me to devour Pushing the Limits in just a couple days. And it wasn’t long before I was completely swept up in Beth and Ryan’s story, rooting for characters who I didn’t even like in the beginning. Soon, the pages were flying by, and during the times when I had to reluctantly put the book down for things like parenting and housework, Beth and Ryan stayed with me.

The verdict? I think I loved Dare You To even more than Pushing the Limits. It tugged my heartstrings left and right, made me smile and gasp and cry. By the end, I was completely in love with Beth and Ryan, as well as much of the supporting cast. Yes, there were moments when I wanted to throttle both of them (especially Beth), but only because they stayed so very true to themselves, and sometimes real people do things that are throttle-worthy. But most of the time, it just wreaked complete and utter havoc with my emotions, in the best possible way.

This book is a bit…ahem…hotter and heavier than PTL, and also manages to go a bit darker, a bit more dangerous, a bit more raw. It takes all the things I adored about PTL and amps them up, but in new and refreshing ways. It’s a fabulous follow-up to Pushing the Limits, but will also stand just fine on its own if this is the first of Katie McGarry’s books you’re trying. I will say, as with Noah in PTL, some of Ryan’s inner monologues can begin to smell a tad like Roquefort (read: cheesy), but I was sucked into the story enough that I didn’t care. Dare You To kept me blissfully engaged from beginning to end. If you enjoy emotional, butterfly-inducing YA contemporary romance that doesn’t shy away from some heavy issues, I recommend Dare You To wholeheartedly.

Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (@KatieMcGarry @HarlequinTeen)

Received an advance digital copy from the publisher via NetGalley

If I’m not careful, I’m going to have to admit I like reading Contemporaries. Which just seems weird. I mean, I’m a fantasy/sci-fi gal. I like when things blow up and shoot lasers and travel through time and battle monsters. What is up with me liking books lately that are all about relatively normal high school students? I’m having a bookish identity crisis, people.

But with Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry, I found yet another well-written and riveting contemporary that I simply could not put down. Really. I tried.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

“No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.”

My Thoughts

Okay, the synopsis sounds hokey. Maybe you don’t think so, but I do. Bad boy reaches out to the popular girl so that she can learn to love again? Um, no. Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure why I requested this book, because I think the synopsis sounds hokey. But I’m glad I overcame that (for whatever reason), because it is not hokey.

From the first page, a counseling session between Echo, her father and stepmother, and her therapist, Mrs. Collins (who I LOVE, by the way), I was completely engrossed in this story. Echo is a complex and well-developed character, and we find out right from the beginning that she suffers from traumatic memory loss, that she deals with tremendous grief over the death of her brother, that she has all sorts of authority issues and trust issues, and that she’s smart. And unlike a lot of books that claim the main character is smart but the character never actually talks or thinks or acts like a smart person, Echo actually thinks intelligently. She’s logical. She’s quick. She’s witty. She made me like her, despite her myriad of issues and struggles.

Then you meet Noah, another case of Mrs. Collins. Noah has been in the foster system ever since his parents died in a fire after his freshman year of high school. Since then, he’s been labeled a “bad influence” and cut off from his young brothers. And while Noah is also a smart cookie, he reacts understandably — he decides to become the bad influence everyone thinks him to be, without really thinking through the consequences. As a reader, I could see that he wasn’t really doing himself any favors there, but Katie McGarry does a fantastic job getting inside Noah’s head so you can really understand how he became the way he is.

Partially through the interference of Mrs. Collins, Echo and Noah wind up thrown together, and although they aren’t each others’ biggest fans at first, they slowly grow to see all that they have in common, and ultimately get together (which I don’t consider a spoiler, since it’s on the cover).

However, unlike many other contemporary teen romances, the romance in Pushing the Limits is not the central focus of the book (Echo and Noah actually get together around the 50% point). Although my emotions were pulled every which way by the romance, the main focus is trying to get Echo and Noah to both cope with the trauma in their lives and move past it. Echo needs to remember what happened on that night two years ago when her mother senselessly attacked her. Noah has to come to terms with how he fits into the lives of his brothers, who he is only allowed to see rarely, and how to determine what is best for them. Both stories tackle difficult subject matter admirably (Noah’s scenes with his brothers made me cry on more than one occasion), and both resolved in a satisfying and realistic manner.

There’s a lot of secondary characters in the book, and while none are developed as thoroughly as Echo and Noah, they all had their own voices and personalities, and I loved reading about how the different relationships worked. My favorites were Noah’s foster brother Isaiah, and the aforementioned Mrs. Collins, who Katie McGarry somehow made me love even while viewing her through the eyes of Echo and Noah, neither of whom really liked her.

The narrative uses the alternating POVs of both Echo and Noah, and each had their own distinct voice. They thought completely differently, and even if their names were never mentioned in the narrative, I would have been able to follow who was speaking when. I thought it was a great use of dual POV, and I was fully invested in both characters.

There were times when some of the dialogue felt a bit forced, or some of the descriptions were a bit unrealistic. For example, according to Noah, Echo smells like hot cinnamon rolls all the time, and tastes like warm sugar. I get that maybe she’s really into the “Warm Vanilla Sugar” scent at Bath & Body Works (because seriously, it smells so good), but unless she’s constantly licking frosting (which she isn’t), I’m not sure how that scent is translating to taste for him.

And then there was Noah constantly referring to Echo as “my siren.” I get that he thought she was irresistible, but I kind of doubt a tattooed, stoner “bad boy” would actually think the words “my siren” every time he sees this girl. They’re minor things, but they took me out of the story just a tad.

That aside, I still really enjoyed this book. I didn’t intend to devour it the way I did, but I couldn’t stop reading. I only got 4 hours of sleep the night I finished it because my bedtime came and went and I couldn’t put the book down. If you’re a fan of contemporary romances that tackle some serious issues, I highly recommend Pushing the Limits.

Content guide: Contains profanity, mentions of child abuse, drug and alcohol use by minors, sexual situations