Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Going Too Far," by Jennifer Echols

The Chick: Meg McPherson. Wild and blue-haired, the town troublemaker refuses to be tied down - and she's just counting down the days when she can escape for Spring Break.
The Rub: After pulling a stunt on a railway bridge gets her arrested, the only way to avoid charges is to spend a week with the cop who arrested her - so much for Spring Break.
Dream Casting: Kristin Stewart.

The Dude: John After. Despite his youth, he's dedicated himself to law enforcement. He can't understand why girls like Meg want to throw their lives away, especially once he gets to know her.
The Rub: However, a relationship between them is impossible - he's determined to stay in his small town, and Meg seems just as determined to leave.
Dream Casting: Channing Tatum.

The Plot:

Meg: WHOO! Rebellion! Booze! Pot! Making out on dangerous, dangerous bridges!

John: BOO! Order! Law! Keeping the hell away from dangerous, dangerous bridges!

Meg: *arrested*

John: You'll be tagging along with me instead of going on Spring Break, you no-goodnik!

Meg: Worst Spring Break ever! Wait a minute, how old are you?

John: ... nineteen. Did I mention I'm also built like a wrestler and have secret issues?

Meg: Best Spring Break ever! Wait a minute, I wanna leave town, you wanna stay, how can we be together?

John: *shrugs, handsomely*

Meg: How about I manipulate a situation until you emotionally crack like an egg?

John: That'll work! Let's blow this Popsicle stand!


Romance Convention Checklist

1 Troubled Partygirl with a Dark Past

1 Hot Cop with a Dark Past

2 Sets of Matching Emotional Baggage

2 Goody-Goody BFFs

1 Dangerous Bridge

1 Secret Tramp Stamp

1 Inconvenient Phobia

2 Romantically Lacklustre Rivals

The Word: WOW. I mean WOW.

This book has been hyped to kingdom come, and, as much as I wanted to read it, I was almost afraid to because of all the high praise. Yeah, sure, every reviewer is original and has their own opinion but sometimes it's a little depressing when everyone loves a book and you don't - and this has happened to me several times (Nalini Singh and C.L. Wilson, to name a few examples). But hey, when both Katiebabs AND the Booksmugglers and a HOST of others name it one of their favourite books ever, I gotta at least try it - especially now that it's been nominated for a RITA for Young Adult Romance. Yup, this fits into my RITA Reading Challenge.

But man, am I glad this fit up to the hype - and rose way, waaaay beyond the hype. I was a little hesitant about reading YA. This is horrible and hypocritical of me because I loves me some children's and teen's lit - even if most of it is nostalgic stuff I read as a kid. Even more hypocritical since I've only not been a teenager for about five years. When I think YA, however, I think, "Yes, everything is Big and Burninating in a Teenager's Life, but is it Interesting To Read?" This of course led to lots of completely stereotypical and ignorant assumptions about plot lines having to do with Dating, The Popular Crowd, and Lip Gloss.

Bad, bad me. Great, awesome book.

The story is told from the POV of 17-year-old Meg McPherson, the resident Bad Girl of her dinky little hometown near Birmingham, Alabama. She dyes her hair crazy colours (currently it's blue), she sleeps around (currently with the town's drug-dealing golden boy Eric), and she pisses off her parents. As we soon find out, she's claustrophobic - only her fear of small spaces and entrapment encompasses her entire life. She refuses to make plans, become attached or form commitments because she finds them just as terrifying as physical confinement. She's chomping at the bit for when her high school graduation frees her to flee her stifling backwater existence. Since graduation is three months away, she'll settle for Spring Break, when she plans to go to Miami on a school trip.

However, her plans go up in smoke when she, Eric, and few other teens get drunk and hang out by the railroad bridge that's been off-limits ever since a tragedy occurred there a few years ago. They're caught and arrested by police officer John After, who sentences them to spend their spring break tagging along with the town firemen, paramedics, and police officers to see firsthand where their thoughtless actions will inevitably lead them. As fate would have it, if Meg wants to avoid criminal charges, she'll have to spend a week working the graveyard shift with After himself.

Meg is pissed about losing her spring break thanks to some tight-assed, middle-aged, control-freak cop. However, once she's sober and sees Officer After in the light of day, she's astonished to discover that John is barely older than she is. He's only nineteen, but his build, confidence, and intense devotion to order and law enforcement make him seem older than he is.

This doesn't make their initial nights together any easier. Both initially view the other with less-than-veiled contempt: John sees Meg as a chaotic element who needs to be saved, by any means necessary, before she comes to a bad end. Meg, meanwhile, can't wrap her head around why a guy who got the highest grades in school one year ahead of her would choose to forgo college and devote himself to this podunk town.

In essence, John and Meg act as polar opposites of the same spectrum - Meg chooses Chaos, seeing it as freedom. John worships Order, which he identifies with safety. However, as they spend more time together, each begins to discover how many similar shades of grey exist between them. Jennifer Echols' magnificent character development demonstrates this slowly, pulling away layer after layer.

Meg, we soon learn, isn't as callous and self-destructive as she appears at the outset - quite the opposite in fact. She's smart and self-reliant with a wry and sarcastic attitude. The story is told from her voice, and while it's initially coloured by her phobias and enforced detachment, I loved watching how her voice gradually changes as she does. And even though the story is told from her point of view, there's still an element of mystery surrounding her claustrophobia and string-free existence.

I've had trouble with romances from a sole person's POV before, and my main problem with them was the uneven development between the protagonist who has the POV and the one who doesn't. Not so, here. John After is Meg's match in nearly every way. Through Meg's observations, we soon discover that his ordered, lawful attitude is just as much a reaction to personal trauma as Meg's wild-child ways - and just as stifling and unhealthy. His facade of law-abiding, ironclad, untouchable macho adulthood is an artful construction, but through poking at his vulnerabilities Meg finds there's still a boy (a cute boy!) underneath.

Despite the fact that our hero is a Hot Cop (which brings an entirely new meaning to Meg's desire to "Fuck Da Police"), there's very little action. Going Too Far is a vivid character study between two walled-off characters who loosen and develop before our eyes in a lovingly-described (if not always well-loved) small-town setting. Their developing romance is a study of contrasts, barbs and rough edges combined with shared humour and warmth.

And oh, the setting. I adored how John and Meg's small town is described - it's not a picture-perfect hunky-dory time capsule of bygone innocence and charm. It's often seen as a stagnant, backwards place of underachievers where anyone who can make something of themselves does so somewhere else. Still, the richness of the characters and the close-knit community are expressed as well.

Seriously, this book is amazing. When Nicholas Sparks snorts lines of burned hundred-dollar bills after the movie based on his novel Pretty Young People Who Will Encounter Death But Not Before Having Sex In the Rain First makes a bajillion dollars its first weekend, this is what he thinks he is writing.

If there is any justice in the world, Jennifer Echols has this RITA in the bag.


  1. I have so much love for this book is not even funny. Once again, great review and I agree Jennifer Echols has got to win this one.

  2. Believe it or not, I don't own a copy of this and it is one of my top reads in 2009! I'd hoped to get it for my ereader but that's going about as well as a cat in water. I need a copy now, all everyone's continued talking is making me hot for a reread. SO glad you loved it!

  3. Awesome Nicolas Sparks comment! I would love to see what you think of Perfect Chemistry. I want to have babies with the epilogue of that book.

    Also would love to have a sequel with Meg and John with the awesome last name.

  4. YAY! I'm so happy you liked it! (I too could not get into C.L. Wilson but your review made me feel better about that. I'm not alone!).

    I hear I should read PERFECT CHEMISTRY too since I liked this one (Katiebabs above seems to be saying the same thing). I also recommend NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST if you haven't read that already. Yep.

  5. "When I think YA, however, I think, "Yes, everything is Big and Burninating in a Teenager's Life, but is it Interesting To Read?" This of course led to lots of completely stereotypical and ignorant assumptions about plot lines having to do with Dating, The Popular Crowd, and Lip Gloss."

    I know! I usually avoid contemporary YA for the same reason. If it's paranormal, at least there's a chance the plot involves something interesting.

    Looks like I'll have to break down and buy this one. *sigh* Poor TBR.

  6. What an awesome review! This has gone from #3442 on my wishlist to my shopping cart. My TBR pile is glaring at me as we speak...

  7. Oh I loved this one to bits too. John After was just perfect.