The cost of perfection

Kara is intelligent. Kara is flawless. Kara is a fraud.

Teenager Kara has chased perfection since she was a child. Her test scores are always the highest. Her freestyle swimming is always the fastest. Her achievements earned her the nickname “Perfect Kara.”

Her parents have great expectations. They want her to graduate high school with honours and attend Stanford. They want her to follow in their footsteps of academic success. They see her as a tool to be programmed rather than a person with feelings and dreams of her own.

“Pushing yourself is the only way to get better,” her mother warns her. And so Kara does push herself. She pushes until she begins to crack. Anxiety begins to gnaw away at her. She becomes isolated, shutting out her friends.  Her anxiety comes to a head when she faints during the SATs.

What I liked best about Pushing Perfect is how it illustrates that anxiety is a serious problem and not just a phase or a mood. Everyone experiences anxiety now and again, but for some it can be a crippling condition. Panic attacks can often be shrugged off as teenage drama – just something people orchestrate to get attention. But panic attacks are a valid and frightening reality for some. What Kara experiences during her SATs is not uncommon.

The second part of the book is much different than the first. The plot switches gears into a fast paced, suspenseful story. No longer able to control her anxiety, Kara wants to try medication but her parents refuse to give their permission for a prescription.  Kara makes a decision to purchase illegal pills from a dealer instead. Later that weekend she receives a text from a blocked sender, along with pictures of her buying pills. The sender wants some favours in exchange for silence.  Kara soon finds herself giving into the perpetrators demands.

As the story develops, Kara discovers she’s not the only one being blackmailed. Academics, athletes, theatre majors – the perpetrator has trapped students from all corners of the school. A series of clues are left open to the reader – who is the real architect of this scheme? Who is lying and who is the real fraudster?

Pushing Perfect is an action based book that is strongly character driven.  It’s a great read for those who crave a fast-paced plot but also enjoy a strong lead character.

-Lesley L.