Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pushing Perfect by Michelle Falkoff

* * * 1/2

A girl’s quest for perfection results in dangerous consequences in this layered, suspenseful YA novel by the author of Playlist for the Dead.

How far would you go to be perfect?

Kara has the perfect life. She gets perfect grades. She never messes up. Until now. Because perfection is an illusion, and Kara has been struggling to maintain it for as long as she can remember. With so much pressure to succeed, it’s hard not to do whatever it takes. 

But when Kara takes a new underground drug to help her ace the SATs, she doesn’t expect to get a text from a blocked sender, telling her to follow a set of mysterious instructions—or risk her dark secret getting out. Soon she finds herself part of a group of teens with secrets of their own, who are all under the thumb of the same anonymous texter. And if they don’t find a way to stop the blackmailer, their perfect futures will go up in flames.

This dark, emotionally resonant contemporary YA novel is perfect for fans of We Were Liars and The Secret History.

Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Expectations are hard to live up to. Whether they come from our parents, our teachers, friends or worse yet, ourselves, the pressure can feel insurmountable. The expectation to live up to some ideal that has been built up over the years can break any person leading them to make some ill-fated decisions. In Pushing Perfect, "Perfect Kara" who has always been an overachiever, succumbs to the pressure to remain on top.

As the blurb explains, Kara takes a drug that's supposed to help her stay focused during her SATs. Attaining a perfect score is the only option she can see that ensures her future. It's at this point as the stress builds that she starts to question her motives, sifting through which ambitions truly belong to her and which of those belong to her parents. Things take an alarming turn when she is contacted by a stranger who knows her dirty little secret, and who threatens to expose her if she doesn't follow through with their instructions. This is definitely something she ever expected and now she's caught up in some intricate blackmailing scheme that is bigger than just her. Getting out if this is going to be tricky but Kara who is tired of being manipulated has had enough. Time to turn the tables and bring down the bad guy.

Falkoff has included several layers to Kara's narrative going years back to when she first developed insecurities about her looks. She also explores how the penchant for secrecy can influence behaviour, even drastically changing the nature of friendships. If anything, perfection becomes an ugly, almost suffocating entity for Kara and her friends. 

I liked Pushing Perfect a lot. I sympathized with Kara and understood where her insecurities stemmed from. It's sadly apparent how isolated she had become until she starts befriending new people. It was also interesting to see how everyone else gets caught up in projecting that perfect image; even more interesting to see how they respond once their ruses are revealed. 

Once again, Falkoff brings to the pages a glimpse of the teenage life from different angles. The premise at first seems simple but the more you let the storyline sink in, the more you understand the disturbing reality that exists. It has made me wonder about my own dynamics with my kids, especially my freshman, as they work studiously to excel at school. Falkoff amazed me with her debut, Playlist for the Dead and with Pushing Perfect, I feel more of a personal connection as she has given me plenty of food for thought.  

~ Bel

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