Going Too Far is edgy, tense, and seductive, with a very tough-tender, wounded heroine who is trying to figure out who she is, and an intelligent, thoughtful hero who thought he had that all figured out. It mixes humor and sarcastic wit (my favorite) alternating with terribly tender and sneakily seductive scenes.
Meg has blue hair, facial piercings, and a tendency to do some breathtakingly risky and altogether stupid things. When drinking one night with her boyfriend and another couple on a railroad bridge, she’s arrested, and her punishment is to ride along with the arresting officer, John After. John’s not that much older than she is, but he’s a lot wiser (so he thinks) and he’s determined to get through to Meg how destructive her current chosen path really is.
By far the best part is the dialogue. The crackling attention between John and Meg is visible like sparks in the air of their banter and arguments. John doesn’t take any crap from Meg, but she’s not about to be meek and docile with him, either.
Meg is among the most unique of heroines. She’s not the standard heroine, and more than the stereotype of “edgy” with her dyed hair and piercings. She dresses to shock and provoke attention, but at the same time, it’s a shell, protecting her from actual attention that might reveal her true self, a self she isn’t sure how to acknowledge. In some ways, there’s a disconnect between her external style and her true character, and while her hair and piercings aren’t an act or a stage of dress-up, they are a way to protect herself. At the same time, her haircolor and piercings are accurately representative of how much she feels like an “other.” Her actions and history also reveal the depth of her hurt, and how easily she covers that hurt with self-destructive and pugnacious behavior, with glimpses of care and kindless sneaking in when she isn’t busy flipping the world off with both hands.
John is just as nuanced and multi-dimensional. He adheres to duty and responsibility, deliberately choosing a different path in going to the police academy right out of high school instead of going to college like most of his friends from their small town. But his decisions are also rooted in a painful motivation, and even though he separated himself from his peers deliberately, he feels the distance between himself and everyone else just as Meg does.
Both characters defy expectations in every direction, especially and most notably with one another. I found myself rereading moments of dialogue so I could gently lift another layer and wonder at what’s underneath and behind each character’s words. Echols packs a ton of motivation and meaning into spare replies of two or three words, and captures that wonderful tension of noticing someone, really noticing them, and then realizing that they might have noticed you, too.
So what’s my problem? Why the B-? Time and continuity.
Meg repeatedly grouses about how small the town is, how she hates the limited attitude and opportunity, and the relative size. She can’t wait to get out of there, she can’t stand the abiding sameness of the community, and she longs to get away. She’s as familiar with the various locations around town for people to get into trouble as John is, and that familiarity and the compactness of the setting are factors in the progress of the relationship and in the backstory of the characters.
So I had a hard time believing that they didn’t know more about each other. Specifically, I couldn’t believe Meg didn’t know John’s history, or didn’t know of his family, and both elements play a large role in the book, particularly in the finale. I finished the book unsure of the portrayal of the town’s size. Was it so small they really did know most of everyone’s business, or was it only small because Meg didn’t look outside her own world too much, and didn’t pay attention to anyone else because she was so busy taking care of herself?
The fact that she had no idea who John was, nor the significance of his story, even though pretty much everyone else did, seemed incongruous with the insular closeness of the community that influences most of the other characters in the book. There are many people knew Meg from her childhood; her parents, as owners of a diner, knew pretty much their entire customer base. There’s an amount of interconnectedness that conflicts and renders unbelievable the idea that Meg is completely unaware of John’s history. I can believe that he’s unaware of her story, but that she’s completely unaware of his when it seems like everyone else is fully informed really, really tripped me up.
I finished the book thinking, “But wait, how could that be?” Did I misread the timeline? Usually this type of thing doesn’t bother me, but not believing in the time line’s continuity meant thinking a lot less of the heroine’s character, and I didn’t want to do that. I loved Meg and I loved the slow build of tension between them, especially because they acknowledged it. Theirs is one of my favorite romance tropes: two prickly people who hold the world at three yards’ distance deciding to risk making an exception and risk letting someone in. The payoff is worth the read and then some, but for the one piece that kept me from blissful enjoyment.