05/21/15

Book Review: Extraordinary Means

20522640Novel: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider | Goodreads
Release Date: May 26th, 2015
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher/TT4L

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.

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This tweet perfectly explains my emotions after reading Extraordinary Means.

Robyn Schneider is one heck of a writer, you guys. Not only does she craft utterly beautiful sentences, she also has a masterful hand when it comes to plot lines and characters. The thing that draws me to Robyn Schneider books over everything else though is that her books are full of NERDS.

That’s right.

NERDS.

Can we get more nerdy characters in YA? Ones like Lane who have spent their entire life working incredibly hard at school, taking a ton of AP classes and have put aside their social life for their grades? The ones who make bad classic literature puns and are fluent in French? Who love physics and history? I want more of these characters, because as someone who fits into the category (minus the fluent French and love of physics) I don’t see this part of myself in that much of YA. And I want more.

Schneider brings the nerds to the table, though. Lane arrives at Latham House with a stack of AP work and a belief that he will get better ASAP and then return to his life. When he learns that he physically cannot do this or it will kill him, his entire life changes. He goes from being withdrawn at Latham to talking to Sadie, who he knows from a summer camp they both went to at thirteen. Sadie and her band of friends (Nick, Charlie, and Marina, I love you) teach Lane about the value of living in the moment and how, although school is important, the connections you make with people are even more valuable. I really connected to this journey and it was so comforting and eye-opening to see this same journey in a character.

Sadie is this mish-mash of rebellious and self-conscious. She hides the part of her that’s self-conscious though, and is known as the girl who gets contraband alcohol and food for the Latham residents. Secretly, she fears the possibility of returning to the outside world after a year and a half at Latham and no change in her illness. Lane teaches Sadie about hope and love and taking risks, and helps her see more light in her life.

The world of Latham and TB that Schneider is incredibly believable. Believable in that I could definitely seeing this happening in our society – an illness spreading the way TB does in the book and dominating the fears of citizens. Of sanatoriums and widespread fear of survivors of the disease. The residents of Latham confront the hatred of those undiagnosed who fear catching the disease, and grapple with not only their diagnosis but also their future. If they get better they go back to their old lives, except those lives will never be the same. Sadie contemplates this a lot throughout the book, and becomes one of her biggest struggles – what would she do if she recovered? These characters’ journeys of illness are rare in YA, as Schneider addresses in her “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, and I agree with her that we need more of them.

Latham is based partly off of Hailsham from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (a book I need to read but a movie I adored) and focuses on recovery. But at the same time, the residents of Latham, like those in Hailsham, live in this world so incredibly isolated from the outside. They only see one another, school is basically a joke, and they struggle to find ways to feel normal. They don’t have cell phones, they all distance themselves from things like Facebook (the reminders of home hurt too much), and people always end up falling in love with one another. Except, as Sadie points out, it usually doesn’t end well.

…if the past year had made me certain of one thing, it was that love stories at Latham all ended the same way: with someone left behind.

Lane and Sadie’s story of love and loss broke me in half. They’re so beautiful together, and they both have to face impossible questions about their lives that I can’t imagine. Their strength, hope, and determination inspire me.

Schnieder’s new book Extraordinary Means made me think about love, friendship, and our futures in ways I hadn’t in a while. It made me contemplate the way I view my own future (and present), and the stigmas that surround illness in our society. To say the least, Extraordinary Means was a thought-provoking and emotional ride that I loved every second of.