[Review + Rant] 4 Star Problematic Fave: Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry

I wrote a full review but lost it. Now I'm too demoralized to rewrite it all. Forgive me. So let’s make this quick. Then we can get to the part that was too painful to write twice, but too important to skip.

Series: Pushing the Limits #1
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Age: YA
Format: HC, 392pgs.
Source: Won
Rating: 4 Stars
Recommendable? Yes
CW: Violence, Sexual Harassment,
"I won't tell anyone, Echo. I promise." Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. "You didn't do that-did you? It was done to you?" No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked.

So wrong for each other...and yet so right.

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..

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I loved almost everything about Pushing the Limits, especially:

  1. The characters and their progression
  2. Unraveling Echo’s mystery
  3. The pacing and tension
  4. Echo and Noah’s romance.

I did not want to stop reading it and I will be continuing the series. I did see Noah's revelation and solution coming but getting there and seeing him grow was a pleasure. So it hardly matters overall.

But there’s something I fucking loathe: fetishizing virginity and slut-shaming.

First let me say, 1.) This is not about a real person’s personal choices, and 2.) It’s not just about Pushing the Limits, it's just the latest I've read with this very common set-up, and 3.) While this will probably sound really mean, I can and did enjoy reading it even though I found it problematic.

I’m not saying being a virgin is disgusting or wrong. What I’m saying this portrayal and narrative is a harmful trope that was born from and perpetuates sexism, purity culture, and toxic masculinity.

~~~~~Spoilers Below~~~~

Obsessing & Fetishizing Virginity Tropes in YA

Our society is obsessed with controlling women’s bodies and choices. The primary dichotomy running through it all is the virgin versus the whore. The double-standard applies to men where their sexual prowess is something to be celebrated and their “inability to get laid” a weakness.

This plays a huge factor in the underlying message and story plot. The love-angle is built around the tropes: The Unsullied, The Pushy Douche, and Worthy Will.

Echo “saved” herself from her ex, Luke, before the accident even though she loved him and was thinking about it. Now he’s back trying to hit it. Whatever he felt before, if anything, is now gone. His only goal is getting Echo back to plant that first flag.

Both he and Noah have sexual histories of their own, though Noah is more notorious. His skills are touted as a good thing because he knows what and how to do for Echo. He’s the bad boy tamed by the fact that Echo is pure enough to make him commit to her monogamously.

While Echo and Noah’s relationship doesn’t hinge on marriage, it does on the idea of waiting for the right person and the right person being insta-forever love. Plus, they discuss getting married and want to after a short time. In the end, there’s no doubt their love is the forever kind a reward for Echo and Noah following social archetypes.

Echo’s virginity is revealed as a surprise. It’s gimmicky twist meant to explain why Echo doesn’t want to have sex with Luke. Now consent is wrapped in the mix. She could have had sex before and didn’t want to again. Saying yes once doesn’t mean she’s fair game or that she has to justify not wanting to fuck him. But instead, she's a virgin, so back off.

Created by Neha Shaw for the Yes Means Yes Campaign
It’s the “No means No” version of consent instead of “Yes! Means Yes!” Consent isn’t to be presumed, it has to be enthusiastically given. Relying on “No means No” opens to door to defending rape when a victim cannot speak up, fight back, or “didn’t deny hard enough” during the attack.

To make sure the point gets across about Echo’s virginity, there’s Beth. She’s the tough bad make-out queen that lap-hops with terrible taste like her momma. Of course, she and Echo don’t get along. Beth isn’t viewed positively until the very end when she softens a bit. Until then it’s all pity and judgement. The last nail in the coffin is finding out someone does love her but her ways are keeping them from being together.

There is small hope that the sequel following Beth, Isaiah, and Ryan will subvert this trope. I wouldn’t be surprised though if Beth is *gasp* a virgin and only makes out with randos because that’s her damage but finds forever love to act right and give it up. Even if it does turn out differently, my point stands for Pushing the Limits.

It’s overabundant in YA and I’m tired of reading the same virgin girl stories, especially in contemporary and romance genres. You can have a love story and epic romance without being a virgin. Where is the sex positivity? I don’t understand obsessing and fetishizing virginity. Why? What’s the fucking point?
Do you have sex positive book recommendations for me?
It would have been the same without making Echo a virgin. She could deny her ex Luke for the same reason it should have been special with Noah: because that's what she wanted. It's NOT uncommon to be anxious about your body and skills no matter what experience you have. The only thing that was added was reinforcing purity culture. So, again, what's the fucking point?

If it wasn't included, then why? How and why does that change how people view Echo?

Tackling sex this way in YA isn't revolutionary but Pushing the Limits could've pushed the limits if Echo had been like most teens and fucked Luke while they were together. I can't help but think of what if? I would've wrote a whole post cheering for it and young women would have a

Even with all the progressive campaigns and movements, YA and NA are dominated by this ideal. Women can save the day, be a bad ass, be independent but our worth, and morality is still wrapped up in a sexist social construct and bound between our legs. And you better look damn good while do you all of that.

No matter how many glass ceilings are broken, we haven’t escaped the purity pedestal and won’t if we silently accept this dominance. I can’t in good conscious cheer for a great novel and not mention it because that would be silently accepting this perpetuation.

Recommended Reading:

Have you noticed this trend? What do you think about it? 

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