Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
Disclaimer! Harlequin Teen granted me an ARC of this through NetGalley in return for a fair review.
This is the third in the series of books (both excellent) about troubled teens who become attracted to their seemingly complete opposite. Previous books' characters appear or are mentioned, but the book works fine on its own too. If you are interested in starting at the beginning, though, start with Pushing the Limits.
Isaiah Walker should be living in foster care, but is secretly living with his best friend Noah (the hero of Pushing the Limits, who's the only person he really feels close to. However, rent money is hard to come by and if they can't find enough cash, Noah will have to move into subsidised college housing, while Isaiah has to go back to the indifferent foster parents he was so relieved to escape. He agrees to drive a car in an illegal street race to get extra money, and that's where he first meets Rachel.
Rachel Young has the perfect life, on paper. She's from a wealthy family, goes to the most prestigious private school in the state, has several protective older brothers and anything she could ever ask for. Except she suffers from terrible anxiety attacks, which she keeps repressing and keeping secret, because her family mustn't know that she's sick. Her parents' oldest daughter died of cancer when she was twelve, and Rachel, her twin and their slightly older brother have known all their lives that they were basically only born because their mother wanted another girl. That means that it's Rachel's job to make sure their mother is happy, even if it means pretending that she's a frilly girly girl who loves shopping and dresses and spa treatments, when what she really wants to do is work on her Mustang and race it as fast as she can down back roads. Even if making her mother happy means speaking at cancer fundraisers about the sister she never even met, despite the fact that public speaking makes her so anxious she vomits and nearly faints. When she finally escapes and hears about a street race, she's excited, only to turn terrified when the police arrive.
Isaiah looks tough and has a number of visible tattoos and piercings, yet Rachel feels a strange calm around him, and he helps her away from the police. At school, Rachel is known as the sickly, anxious girl with brothers who would pummel any boy who came near her, so she even if she managed to drum up the courage to speak to a boy, she probably wouldn't get the chance. At social events, her brothers' friends will occasionally pity-dance with her, but she's never had a chance to be alone with a boy, let alone one as different from her as Isaiah.
Isaiah knows that someone as clean and innocent and wealthy as Rachel has no business being involved in illegal street racing, and certainly shouldn't ever come near someone like him. When Eric, the thug who runs the races is robbed by the two college guys who tipped Rachel off about the race, Isaiah tries to stay far away from her, to protect her from Eric's attentions. But Eric finds her anyway, and both their lives are in danger if they can't find five thousand dollars to pay him. Isaiah and Rachel need to work together to get the money, and their job is made more difficult as Eric would much rather they both stay in his debt, giving him power over both of them.
While Isaiah and Rachel seemingly come from different worlds, they also have a lot in common. Isaiah feels abandoned by his mother, after discovering she was released from jail over a year before she tried to get back in contact with him. He's lying to his school and foster care worker about where he's actually living, and working so hard to get a good education and secure a job which will give him a chance to escape the misery of his current situation.
Rachel can never truly be herself and desperately hides her panic attacks, to the point where they become a risk to her health, just so her parents and brothers don't have to worry about another sick, weak and helpless sister. She's Colleen's replacement, and can't be honest about her interest in cars and mechanics and racing. She has an agreement with her twin that she covers for him, and he covers for her, which is the only way she can escape and drive aimlessly late into the night. She certainly can't tell her family that Eric is threatening to hurt her and Isaiah in all sorts of creative ways if he doesn't get his money, even if it was her brother's friends who really got her in trouble in the first place.
The characters in McGarry's books are always seeming opposites, who while not falling in love at first glance, certainly feel a strong draw to the other almost instantly, and who because of deep emotional issues have trouble acting on their real feelings. Isaiah feels lost, alone and distrusts pretty much all authority figures, especially those in the foster care system. He had two people he could rely on in thick and thin, and had his heart broken when one of these, Beth, the abused niece of his foster parents, moved in with her much more reliable uncle and found love with a baseball player at her new school (see Dare You To). Most of the people who surround him are as damaged and emotionally scarred as he is, or into some pretty destructive and quite possibly even illegal. It also doesn't take him long to realise that while Rachel may live in a big house, with parents and overprotective brothers, she is terrified of them finding out about her extra-curricular activities and that she's making herself ill trying to keep up her perfect facade. He also discovers, that while she may see herself as weak, she constantly rejects his protective instincts and insists on fighting her own battles.
Written as McGarry's other books, in chapters where the POV alternates between Isaiah and Rachel, the narrative device lets us get to know both characters really well, and invest more strongly in their relationship and emotions. While the characters tend to fall for each other quickly, there are always some pretty substantial challenges in the way of the couples' happy endings, and in this book, it's the fact that Isaiah is a formerly drug using, tattooed and pierced mechanic with an ex-jailbird mother, who's had his faith in pretty much everyone taken away by the crappiness of the world, while Rachel has an overprotective family who either doesn't understand her or won't let her be who she really wants to be and has grown up never being able to surpass the perfection of her long dead sister. Her family would never accept Isaiah, even if he makes her feel safer and more special than anyone else in her life, and they would certainly not react well to hearing that she was being blackmailed by a violent thug with organised crime connections because she snuck out and illegally street raced.
The characters have to work to overcome their difficulties, and one of the reasons that I like McGarry's books so much is that you don't actually have to suspend your disbelief all that much. For all the neglectful, violent or just plain misguided adults out there who screw up their children emotionally, there are also foster care workers, teachers, guidance councilors, therapists and others who want to help and can be trusted, if the damaged kids will just extend some trust. It's clear that there are several more books coming, and I'm hopeful that while the next book is about Rachel's older brother West, I will get to see Isaiah's prickly friend Abby find her soul mate in one of the future books, because she really seems to need to find someone good to take care of her.