Title: Extraordinary Means
Author: Robyn Schneider
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 27th May 2015
Rating: 3/5 stars
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy to review!
When he’s sent to Latham House, a boarding school for sick teens, Lane thinks his life may as well be over.
But when he meets Sadie and her friends – a group of eccentric troublemakers – he realises that maybe getting sick is just the beginning. That illness doesn’t have to define you, and that falling in love is its own cure.
Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about true friendships, ill-fated love and the rare miracle of second chances.
This story has been compared to John Green’s novels, but I don’t think that quite fits. Sure, it is about young people, love and sickness, but the writing is vastly different. It does have a little bit of the same ‘pretentious teen’ thing going on, though I had heard of most of the literary references in this one. I particularly loved:
‘We’re going to party like guests at one of Jay Gatsby’s parties, but not like Jay Gatsby himself’.
(Because while Gatsby throws great parties, he himself is very boring at said parties, waiting for a girl who never arrives).
It was a good story, though I tend to find books about fictional illnesses a bit stressful. I recently read Stephen King’s The Stand and freaked out when I developed a sniffle. I was very thankful for the author’s note at the end which notes that there is no such thing as total-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Thank goodness!
The story is told from two points of view – Lane and Sadie. They met once upon a time at summer camp and Sadie holds a vendetta because she believes he scorned her. So, there is definitely the element of hate becoming friendship and then more. I generally like that relationship trope but it annoyed me here.
The school is in the middle of nowhere, intended to isolate the infectious teens. Death is a reality at the school – it seems terrifying that people would send their children away while there was a very real risk of their dying. But there is hope – a new drug is about to be trialled at the school. Can everyone just hold out until then?
While I liked the story, I felt that the characters were lacking something. The side characters (in Sadie’s group of friends) were way more interesting but weren’t explored all that much. I just couldn’t connect. The story was great, and believable, but the characters just fell a little flat for me.
There is an element of displacement not only for the kids in the school but also back in normal society – one of the kids who gets out after getting well writes back to say how difficult it is reentering normal society; he is shunned for his disease.
I really loved the Author’s Note at the end of the book – it made me appreciate the story more. Schneider raises the fact that there is little medical narrative for young adult readers, and it was her aim to fix that. The medical and scientific element is actually really really cool and if that is your thing, read the book! She also talks about the research she undertook, particularly about sanatoriums – while it was intriguing to have the story set in today’s times, the setting did feel outdated.
The story had great potential, but in the end the main characters let it down. Despite their differences, I finished this with the same feelings I had when reading Spark – disappointment that the story fell short of my expectations, when I really really wanted to adore it! However, I would be interested in reading more medical narratives for young adults, and I will be intrigued to see how Schneider’s writing changes (and improves!) if she writes more in this genre.