Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider
Published: May 26, 2015
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
From the author of The Beginning of Everything: two teens with a deadly disease fall in love on the brink of a cure.

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it's easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down.

Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.
My Thoughts:

Five fingers wouldn't be enough for counting how many YA contemporaries I've read this year that have centered around mental illnesses. Some have labeled such books as "sick lit" and included in this category also YA books that deal with cancer, arguably the most often used illness in YA books, a reality that probably 95% of us have some experience from via family members, friends etc. I must admit that when I first heard about Extraordinary Means and the sanatorium it uses as its setting, I expected the novel to be a historical one, since tuberculosis is an illness that I automatically connect with 19th century and the novels of Jane Austen.

Rather than using a historical setting, Schneider has inserted an incurable strain of tuberculosis to the modern American society. Inspired by the fear and spread of illnesses like Ebola, Schneider has taken an illness that most of us probably expect to be in the history and made her main characters, a group of five teenagers suffer from it. The novel starts when Lane is sent to Latham sanatorium after being given a tuberculosis diagnosis. He is forced to put his busy academic life on hold and though he tries to keep up with his AP classes from Latham, he is quickly made to realize that as a result of his sickness he cannot do things quite as he used to do them before his diagnosis.

At Latham, Lane comes face to face with Sadie, a girl he once shared a summer with at a summer camp. He becomes intrigued with Sadie and her group of friends. Sadie has spent a lot of time at Latham - her tuberculosis has stayed static; not too bad to take her to the hospital wing, not good enough for her to be able to go home. When Sadie first sees Lane, she is upset. For years after the summer camp, she has been harboring negative feelings towards the events of the summer. After some misunderstandings are solved, Lane joins Sadie's group and for the first time feels like he is living his life rather than just planning it.

The novel is narrated by both Lane and Sadie. This alternating narrative allows for a more complex look into the minds and actions of these teens and I think it makes the novel more available for readers from both sexes. I feel like there often is a preconception that YA contemporary novels are "for girls", mainly because often the protagonists are female. With Extraordinary Means, we get into the heads of both a young girl and a young boy and we get to see how they fall in love. It is incredible to read how brave and honest and funny and loving these characters are and how they keep going even despite the fact that their situation seems pretty grim.

Though the strain of tuberculosis that these characters have been diagnosed with is fictional, I found it extremely interesting to read a book about characters who suffer from an illness that seems to be without cure. What I found extremely interesting was to read about the way those who are healthy treat them - their teachers, doctors, parents and friends. Some pity them, most are afraid of them. These teens not only have to live with an illness that makes their hurt physically, they also have to deal with the consequences that the actions of those around them cause.

Schneider writes well and the pacing of the novel works very well; I was a big fan of how the chapters get shorter towards the end as the events of the novel get more and more intense. Schneider's characters are multi-dimensional, flawed and never pitied by the author - they are sick but not only defined by their illness. Though they share the illness, they are very different otherwise and I really liked the fact that I was able to connect with all of them in some way.

Extraordinary Means definitely sold me on Robyn Schneider and made me desperate to read her debut The Beginning of Everything. I highly recommend Extraordinary Means to everyone, even for those who have started to distance themselves from the so-called "sick-lit" genre. With no mental illnesses or cancer, the use of a fictional strain of tuberculosis distinguishes Extraordinary Means and makes it an interesting read about a society that is exactly like ours, expect riddled with an illness that most of us see only as part of history.

4 Snowflakes


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