I’ll start this review by saying that ‘Extraordinary Means’ has become one of my new favourite books, and is the best book of 2015, I’ve read so far. Good. I think that pretty much sums up the review!
Robyn Schneider classifies this book as a ‘young adult medical narrative’ in her author’s note. I guess this makes it similar to other books of the genre, such as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. But, whereas John Green’s novel has slightly glittery edges (made shiny by tears), ‘Extraordinary Means’ is grittier. It was humorous without being pretentious. It was realistic without glorifying disease. And, yes, there were a few extended metaphors, but it wouldn’t be a YA book without them.
So why did I like it so much? Well….
‘Extraordinary Means’ takes place in a sanatorium, where kids are sent to recover from a strain of TB that is resistant to any drugs. During the course of the book, a cure is discovered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending.
There are two different perspectives, Lane and Sadie, who fall in love, despite thinking their days might be numbered. I loved the narrative, both characters were different enough that it was easy to distinguish who was speaking without looking at their name on the top of the chapter. It was great to see Robyn Schneider deal with a female perspective too, as her debut novel, ‘The Beginning of Everything’, is told from a male perspective.
Otherwise, the plot was simple. Two teens fall in love. Chaotic fun ensues.
My favourite dynamic of characters to write is a group of five, so I was overjoyed when ‘Extraordinary Means’ used the magic of five friends, too. Nick, Charlie, and Marina, the more minor characters that had to work around Sadie and Lane’s relationship were all so developed, I understood who they were in seconds. I understood what Sadie and her friends were trying to do, in a place full of coughing and wheezing. I liked the subtle diverse representation among the group, that’s sometimes lacking from YA novels that love to point out one of the characters is black and one is gay in such an overt manner.
I felt I, like Lane, wanted to be a part of Sadie’s friends, because when they were together, breaking rules and adventuring in the woods, you forgot that they were suffering.
For the genre of contemporary romance, I guess Sadie and Lane fit the mould. They started out as a love/hate relationship. There was some misunderstanding between them due to a summer long ago when they were thirteen. But you can’t judge a book by its cover, or someone by their adolescent self.
I felt just a giddy as Sadie, when Lane asked her on a date. For a second, I forgot that their relationship probably wasn’t going to end well, and just enjoyed reading about the two of them together. Romance is definitely what drove the plot forward and was my favourite element of the book.
Setting and Context
Boarding school style settings are the best thing ever. I absolutely love when kids have more of a free rein to do what they want, without adult supervision. I think, throughout the book, there was just the right amount of medical moments to remind the reader Lane and Sadie weren’t at a summer retreat. Their relationship was grounded, and I appreciated that.
There were a few things I wasn’t expecting, which completely shocked me, but again, alerted me to the reality of the setting. Nothing was perfect. There were no rose-tinted glasses. All the kids knew they were dying but it didn’t create a really morbid atmosphere. It was all executed very well, and to know the Robyn Schneider has a master’s degree in bioethics just makes the book all the more impressive.
Overall, I have no reservations about giving this book a 5 star rating. It was perfect in ways I can’t describe, intelligent and funny, tragic and beautiful. There definitely needs to be more books like this out there, that imagine teenagers realistically and complexly. When it comes out on the 26th May, grab one from the shelves. Actually, grab two. It’s that good.