Tuesday 28 July 2015

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Published by Simon and Schuster in June 2015
Pages -336

Publisher’s summary:
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 define you, and that falling in love is its own cure.

Reviewed by Isabella Samuels

Robyn Schneider made her mark on the YA bookshelf for the first time two summers ago with Severed Heads, Broken Hearts to a chorus of applause and Extraordinary Means shows no sign of falter in Schneider’s talent. 

Lane is a swot, paranoid about not letting anything – especially a highly contagious, highly deadly disease like tuberculosis – stop him from getting into Stanford University. Sadie is an artistic, trouble stirring girl who harbours a grudge against Lane for a horrible and fictitious incident at summer camp when they were thirteen. We find ourselves in the not-too-distant future where the drugs we use to conquer TB have stopped working and the disease has become as much of a terrifying threat as it was when it killed Keats, the Bront√ęs and Jane Austen. Lane and Sadie find themselves at Latham House sanatorium, trying to ignore that ever lingering dark cloud of mortality and diving headfirst into the possibility of love.

Again and again Schneider presents gritty, rich emotion together with black, I-know-it’s-wrong-to-laugh humour and simply breath-taking revelations. With a Master’s in Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania her meticulous research is evident as the fears, history and pain of the disease become the driving force of the narrative. 

The presentation of a modern’s teenager’s life too is very real. Latham House, inhabited by teens only, evolves into a school in some respects, the children still having lessons and strict supervision. Therefore their relationships and antics become very recognisable and relatable. It is through this that Schneider helps her reader to empathise with the characters despite the completely unrecognisable circumstances. However, Sadie seems unsettlingly non-plussed by her morbid situation, and sometimes even cold. Schneider seems so wrapped up making sure that she lets Sadie’s bubbly and whimsical personality shine through, TB falls to the wayside until the very end. 

Extraordinary Means, however, remains a gripping and sophisticated read, with its distinctive, inescapable echoes of John Green, both in style and story, and its intense subject matter. In the tradition of coming-of-age tales the ending looms inevitably and Schneider manages to deliver the swift and punchy finale that the novel deserves. Schneider has earned the recognition Extraordinary Means is bound to receive in the YA market.

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