Book Review

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

B-

Title: Going Too Far
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publication Info: MTV 2009
ISBN: 1416571736
Genre: Young Adult

Going too FarGoing 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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I lurrrvvved(TM) this book, which, btw, I got after clicking through from the Smart Bitches ad and reading the synopsis. (Young cop+Edgy girl=NOMNOMNOM)

    Interestingly, I never tweaked on the disconnect between the small town setting and the fact that Meg didn’t know the history of the After family. I was swept away by the great characters and the wonderfully nuanced relationship. Lots of contemporaries start with HOT SEXXY PHEROMONES leading to love, sweet, love: Jennifer Echols made it utterly real and believable here.

    Also? As someone who is from Alabama as well as upstate NY, I loved seeing a book set in the south that didn’t read like the bastard love child of William Faulkner and Fannie Flagg.

  2. 2
    Carrie Lofty says:

    You know I love prickly characters. Must check this one out.

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:

    I lurrrvvved(TM) this book… (Young cop+Edgy girl=NOMNOMNOM)

    Gee. Now why in the world would you like something like THAT?! Heh.

    It’s true. Even with my brain arguing with me, I loved the dialogue. Nuanced is really the word for the two of them.

    All alone. In a cop car. Driving around late at night…. Rwor.

  4. 4
    Barb Ferrer says:

    That timeline issue was the one thing that tripped me up as well, Sarah, but I do think that Meg’s situation could have conceivably led to her being so insular/insulated that what happened with John’s family might have completely passed her by.  Still though, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more explanation in terms of why she might not have known.

    But Jenn did a beautiful job with this one—I think she always creates such lovely chemistry with her couples, but this one was just off the charts.

  5. 5
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Huge disclosure: I’m Jenn’s critique partner.

    I loved this book. Loved everything about it. (Obviously.) These two characters created such a beautiful, tense, heartachy world when they were together.

    Clearly, the timeline/secret didn’t trip me up. In all honesty, I’m from a much smaller town than the one in this book, and I know all about open secrets and things forgotten because… drum roll please… wait for it… need someone with a deep, booming voice here… I was a secret baby! And i didn’t even know it. But strangely, I didn’t start out as a secret. It was simply covered up by some and forgotten about by others until the shocking moment I showed up at a funeral and caused a scandal.

    So I think people have their own small worlds that often don’t touch others, especially when they carry their own dramatic stories with them. This story rang true for me.

    I was in awe of the writing the first time I read it. Still am. The dialogue makes me green with envy. *sigh*  I’m so glad you liked it, Sarah! Woohoo!

  6. 6
    TadMack says:

    Ooh. Like the sound of THIS ONE. The minute you said “Ride along” and “Cop…”

  7. 7
    Faellie says:

    Haven’t read the book, but I have another difficulty with the premise.  Would it really be required (or even allowed) for an 18 year old girl who is having difficulties with the authorities to spend all night, every night, alone with a male police officer who is not much older than her?  Isn’t that just asking for trouble of one sort or another, and not in a good, “romance novel”, way?

    I can’t see any circumstances in which it would happen in the UK.  (If a night time “ride along” did happen, it would have to be a female police officer, or female and male police officers together.)  Or is this just another case of the US and the UK being completely different, despite superficial similarities?

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    Faellie: She’s not 18, I don’t think.

    And I can see the setup happening, especially in the construct of this book, because the friends she’s arrested with end up riding along with EMS and the fire department, all of which are networked together so it’s not like they wouldn’t see each other when they were all riding out at night. Everyone is well aware of what folks are doing in the emergency services dept, it seemed. So it wasn’t squicky at all.

  9. 9

    I live in a small town (suburb of San Diego), and I know absolutely nothing about most of its residents.  I can barely keep up with the gossip involving my own friends and relatives!  If the characters travel in different social circles, it seems reasonable that they don’t know about the past secrets or whatever.

    Is is spoilerish to ask how far they go?  If so, please ignore.  I’m always wondering if the couples actually “do it” in YA.

  10. 10
    Vicki says:

    As the mother of a blue-haired, pierced, tattooed teen (who is now blond, less pierced, still tattoed and back home with her son), I am actually interested to see how they handle this. Also, she has started reading my stash of romances and complaining that they are too mature or the characters too staid. This might be a great book for her. Got to check it out.

  11. 11
    AgTigress says:

    I can’t see any circumstances in which it would happen in the UK.  (If a night time “ride along” did happen, it would have to be a female police officer, or female and male police officers together.)

    I second this, Faellie.  It jumped out at me, too, and that was before I even caught onto the fact that the heroine is still a schoolgirl, not an adult.  It would be unimaginable here even if the woman were well out of her teens.  I am truly amazed that it is conceivable in the USA, which is usually so hot on possible sexual harassment issues.

    Theoretically, I think I could just about accept the heroine’s lack of background knowledge about the hero, since adolescents are particularly adept at not noticing things that do not interest them:  subjects that might be well-known generally in a small town could, I think, pass by a typically self-absorbed teenage girl.

  12. 12

    Jill,

    It’s certainly not a spoiler to say that Meg is already sexually active when the book begins. Which is something I, as a reader and a mother, really appreciate. YAs where the heroine is in a sexual relationship and the book isn’t about stds/unwanted pregnancy/rotten boyfriend who dumps her because she put out provide a wonderful springboard to discussion. (Plus, they’re often better because they don’t read like a “Just Say No” lecture.)

    My 16-y-o and I have had some very good talks that started with YA fiction. (I thought they were good. She may have been gritting her teeth and counting the moments until I shut up about respect and prevention and committed relationships.)

    And here I want to plug one of my most fave YAs ever: TIPS ON HAVING A GAY EX-BOYFRIEND by Carrie Jones, who was a DABWAHA finalist this year. Funny, smart girl; caring, rock-solid boy (son of the police chief!) and a tangle of relationships and choices in a small town in Maine. I’d definitely pair it up with GOING TOO FAR.

    verification: eating97. I’m eating 97 bites of chili as I write this.

  13. 13
    Lori says:

    @Faellie & AgTigress: As someone who worked with the juvenile justice systems for a number of years I can say that this wouldn’t happen here in the US either.  At least not in any juvenile justice run by people who have been trained at any point in the last 3-4 decades and how a general sense of responsibility about their jobs.

    I don’t say that as a particular criticism of the book, which I haven’t read. I’ve overlooked worse disconnects from reality in books that I liked. I just don’t want people from other parts of the world to think this is some sort of US thing,because it’s not.

  14. 14

    Julia,

    Thanks for the response!  My daughters aren’t teens yet, so I was thinking about reading this for myself.  I don’t read a lot of YA, but I prefer more edgy/less sweet in general.  And I love the good boy/rebellious girl dynamic.

  15. 15
    Karen Junker says:

    Why do piercings and blue hair always have to be the significator of rebellion?  As a former purple-haired body piercer, I can tell you that many people, teens and adults alike, choose distinctive hair colors and body art merely as artistic expression, not because they want to make some kind of point.

    I’m also a former CPS caseworker and I try never to read books in which there are possible situations that might once have caused me to open a statutory rape case report.  I have a much higher than average tolerance for squick, but not where an adult takes advantage of his position with a vulnerable youth.

    Your review doesn’t state the heroine’s age, but even so, it set off some kind of red flag for me.  I’m probably not going to be able to read this book.

  16. 16
    AgTigress says:

    As someone who worked with the juvenile justice systems for a number of years I can say that this wouldn’t happen here in the US either.

    Lori, thank you for this comment, and also Karen Junker for her confirmation.  It shows how careful one must be about drawing conclusions about another culture from reading fiction!  All the same, it does surprise me that, if this plot element is unrealistic, as appears to be the case, the author, who is evidently a talented, inventive and experienced writer, chose to use it. 

    I think all of us readily make allowances for minor mistakes in an otherwise well written and inspired story, especially if the error is in a rather arcane subject, and/or is of minor importance in the plot.  But this one seems to be rather major:  if the police setting is central in the book, the usual rules and regulations need to be known and followed, surely?

  17. 17
    Victoria Dahl says:

    The heroine is 17, almost 18. Hero is 19. They were in class together the year before. They *very* carefully mark the point at which her punishment is over and he no longer has authority over her.

  18. 18
    Lori says:

    They *very* carefully mark the point at which her punishment is over and he no longer has authority over her.

    I know it’s important not to over generalize from personal experience, but just no. Carefully avoiding “doing anything” until some magic date has passed would make no real difference in the situation. 

    If I had gotten involved with one of the former clients of the facility where I worked I would have faced disciplinary action and likely would have lost my job. And I would have deserved to be fired. 

    I’m honestly not trying to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the book.  People just need to file this under “this plot point drives the story forward, but the real world does not work like that.”

  19. 19
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I think too, it’s important to note that law enforcement requirements in the United States are not governed at a federal level, but primarily at a state level and in some cases, at county or city levels.  So what might fly in a small town in Alabama would be unheard of in New York City or Los Angeles.

    If I had gotten involved with one of the former clients of the facility where I worked I would have faced disciplinary action and likely would have lost my job. And I would have deserved to be fired.

    But it doesn’t mean that a situation like this has never happened.

    We’re talking about two teenagers.  Fairly close in age.  And the older of the two does behave in a responsible, adult fashion and ultimately, so does the younger. 

    The story is about about the journeys both characters take, both together and as individuals.  Ultimately, that’s what drives the story forward.

  20. 20
    Victoria Dahl says:

    If I had gotten involved with one of the former clients of the facility where I worked I would have faced disciplinary action and likely would have lost my job

    I totally understand what you’re saying, but i’m not sure how it applies in this case, in real life or in a book. He’s a small town patrol cop. Is he not supposed to date anyone in his town? Or anyone he’s arrested? Or anyone who’s ever been arrested by his colleagues? Real life gets kind of mushy, because in a small town a cop or judge or mayor technically might have influence over everyone they deal with, whether through friendship or dating or marriage or blood relation, etc. I don’t think that automatically makes them unheroic or unethical. The characters in this book handle the situation really well, imho.

    And also in real life… my dad? Father of the secret baby in a small town? He was a cop. Ha! It’s funny because it’s true.

  21. 21
    Kaetrin says:

    now I want to hear the whole secret baby story Victoria!  Will you put it in one of your novels?

  22. 22
    MichelleR says:

    Not available on Kindle and that makes me sad.

  23. 23
    Ann says:

    Ditto. Victoria,  not to be insensitive to what must have been an awkard, maybe even painful experience, but this goes to show that real life is sometimes more interesting/stranger than fiction.  You would have a very interesting autobiography.  Has your experience influenced your writing?

  24. 24
    appomattoxco says:

    You only know everything about everyone in a small town if you are the type who wants to. Meg doesn’t seem the type. But I would guess it’s clear to her that people love to talk about her.

    I’m not much of a gosip and a bit of an outsider. [read i don’t go to church.] I don’t know the asorted [or sorted]  history of everyone in town. However, I know I could ask somebody who might have to ask one other person. And I know there are people in town who aren’t close friends who could tell you my bio.  That’s what’s like in a small town.

  25. 25
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Will you put it in one of your novels?

    not to be insensitive to what must have been an awkard, maybe even painful experience, but this goes to show that real life is sometimes more interesting/stranger than fiction.

    I’ll tell the story to anyone who buys me a drink at RWA in DC! Seriously, it’s not very painful, because I was so secret I didn’t even KNOW I was a secret baby until I was 25. *g* Here I was just flouncing around in the open.

    In all honesty, I couldn’t write it into a book, because it would make no sense. I didn’t start out a secret, but once my family moved away, I was apparently swept under the rug until my dad’s story became everyone’s truth. Again, not believable in a town of 2000 people. Which is why I found Jenn’s story totally believable! Way less far fetched than my own experience.

  26. 26
    Helena says:

    I can actually believe the heroine wouldn’t know the hero. I work and teach on two rez towns where the population is about 2,000 people and there are many men and women I don’t know here, despite the closeness and interrelations of the town. It’s a combination of my profession and also whether you go out much, so to me, it makes sense in a way.

    And as a tattooed, pierced and fire-engine red teacher, it’s refreshing to see a heroine with the same characteristics. LOL.

  27. 27
    Helena says:

    I can actually believe the heroine wouldn’t know the hero. I work and teach on two rez towns where the population is about 2,000 people and there are many men and women I don’t know here, despite the closeness and interrelations of the town. It’s a combination of my profession and also whether you go out much, so to me, it makes sense in a way.

    And as a tattooed, pierced and fire-engine red haired teacher, it’s refreshing to see a heroine with the same characteristics. LOL.

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