Thursday, 9 July 2015

review: extraordinary means

From Goodreads

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.

Somehow, Robyn Schneider managed to do it. 

By some strange miracle, she took a cliche that's been so overdone in YA lit over the last few years - you know, the whole Teenagers Falling In Love Despite Their Life-Threatening Illness trope - and made it different. I don't know how, but she made it work for me when I was on the brink of giving up on these kinds of contemporaries. 

Extraordinary Means is set in an alternate universe (or our universe but very near in the future) where a drug-resistant strand of tuberculosis has pretty much taken over the world. It's gotten so bad that the U.S. government has opened up sanitariums to keep the sick kids in, somewhat for their own treatment but mostly for the protection of everybody else. Something about the politics of this novel (however minor they may be) was very thought-provoking to me - the othering of the sick kids and the government putting their needs aside just struck me as very realistic and something I could absolutely see happening.  

I also really enjoyed the fact that this wasn't really your typical sick kids story - a lot of novels that focus on disease tend to spotlight illnesses that aren't contagious, whereas the tuberculosis in this is very much so. Again, it does a very good job of showing the loneliness of people with contagious diseases, since it is made very clear that these kids do not get any visitors, and they're pretty much marked for life after the diagnosis. The relationships that the characters form with each other really does end up being the only thing they have. The group that Lane and Sadie spend most of their time with gives us a very important look into the fact that all hope is not lost, and at least they all have someone to share their pain and struggles with. 

The story is told in a dual POV, the protagonists being Lane and Sadie who, of course, end up falling in love. Their romance felt unusually authentic to me - it wasn't insta-love by any means, which is a refreshing change. Instead, we get to see the couple struggle as they try to come to terms with their illness and its implications, as well as the possibility of a cure and what happens next. If you're looking for a story that's all kissing and smiles and happy-go-lucky unicorns, this probably isn't for you. 

In terms of character development, I have to say that I preferred reading Lane's perspective solely because of his mental journey. The novel starts with his arrival at Latham House, so obviously the majority of character focus is going to be placed on him. I really liked Sadie as well, and found her to be an intriguing and, at times,  inspiring character, but I just felt the maturation shown in Lane was one of the novel's strongest points for sure. 

Overall, I really, really enjoyed reading this novel. Robyn Schneider has a beautiful way of making her characters and her stories come to life, and one of the greatest strengths I've found in her writing is her ability to make a character really grow and mature as a person. Lane starts off as a total goody-two-shoes, obsessed with getting into a good college and getting all the best grades, but by the end he comes to the realization that there are more important things than that, and he has to actual live while he has to chance. While it did get very emotionally trying at times, it definitely wasn't as depressing a read as TFiOS, which a lot of people do compare it to. If you're in the market for a YA contemporary with some substance, this is one to pick up.  

Favourite Quote: “There's difference between being dead and dying. We're all dying. Some of us die for ninety years, and some of us die for nineteen. But each morning everyone on this planet wakes up one day closer to their death. Everyone. So living and dying are actually different words for the same thing, if you think about it.” 

2 comments on "review: extraordinary means"
  1. I'm super excited to read this book, especially since it seems not to be super cliche-y. I heard that this book was written before The Fault In Our Stars was. I have no idea if that's true but it's interesting to think about.

  2. Your review made it sound that this book is profound in its meaning, and life-compelling, so I'm totally loving that. I will read this first before I get into reading The Beginning of Everything. :)

    Fiona @ A Girl Between the Pages