I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider
Published by Katherine Tegan on May 26, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Illness, Tough Topics, Young Adult
Pages: 336 •Format: ARC •Source: Publisher
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.
“It’s strange how we can lose things that are still right there. How a barrier can go up at any moment, trapping you on the other side, keeping you from what you want. How the things that hurt the most are things we once had.”
I’ll be the first to admit that the “sick lit” trend is not one that generally appeals to me. After The Fault in Our Stars really underwhelmed me, I have tended to stay away from terminally ill teens in literature. Yet when I went to YALLWEST this spring, my boyfriend attended the signing by author Robyn Schneider and grabbed an ARC and had it customized for me (he said she was super nice too! They bonded over his Game of Thrones t-shirt). After hearing how lovely she was in person, I decided I wanted to give her book a try and see if it appealed to me more than other sick lit books have. After finishing it in less than two days, I’m glad to have given it a chance, as Robyn Schneider is a truly interesting author, with a background in bioethics and a narrative that brings up a lot of questions about how the modern world would react to an epidemic.
Extraordinary Means is primarily marketed as a love story from the blurb on the back, but I think where its real value lies in the ways it portrays America- and the rest of the world- reacting to a deadly epidemic of a disease that was once at least semi “controlled.” In the novel, a new strain of totally drug resistant TB has appeared and infected thousands of people, while scientists race to find a cure. Lane and Sadie are two teens who have contracted the new strain and are sent by their parents to Latham House, a sanatorium in the Santa Cruz woods where upper class families can afford to send their teens to hopefully recuperate from the disease. I thought that the subtle references to classism in the book were really interesting, as a majority of the kids are from wealthy California suburbs and still maintain a level of normalcy while at the sanatorium, with a private room, landline phone, and access to most of their belongings. At one point in the book a character calls Sadie out on her privilege by stating that quality care is really only within reach of a small percentage of the American population, while most people will have to wait in their homes, slowly dying without round-the-clock care and possibly infecting family members, until a possible cure is found. It added depth that the characters were eventually, if only for a few scenes, reminded of how “lucky” they are, despite complaining about having to be out of their normal routine and all of the rules of the sanatorium.
The book is narrated in alternating points of few by both Lane and Sadie, and how they meet at Latham and develop a relationship. While the romance wasn’t annoying or irksome, I found myself not very invested in it, not really feeling emotionally engaged with Lane and Sadie’s courtship. I was much more drawn in by the relationship dynamics of other characters in the book and how they were impacted by TB, such as teens whose family members were afraid to be near them or patients in remission who tried to integrate themselves back into their former lives only to be shunned. In fact, one of the most intriguing parts about the book was the pull that the patients felt toward Latham underneath their resentment for it. Lane and Sadie often complain about Latham’s policies and rules yet have a sort of reverence for it as it accepted them when they were kicked out of their lives due to their disease. This dynamic was really fascinating, and I wish the novel had covered even more about how their relationships with people outside of Latham evolved and changed throughout their journey.
I enjoyed Lane as a main character more than Sadie as he’s so practical, as he tries to keep up with his schoolwork at all costs and can’t stop thinking about his academic record and college admissions despite his setbacks. His transition from Type-A to fellow troublemaker in order to get in good with Sadie’s clique disappointed me a bit (I mean, in a way it’s succumbing to peer pressure and molding yourself to be someone different so others will accept you). I didn’t dislike Sadie and really liked some of her dialogue, but she didn’t feel as fleshed out to me as Lane and I had a hard time understanding why she took some of the risks she did when she was so lucky to receive the quality of care that she did. While the writing style and plot was more on the simple side, I did find some passages that I marked because the dialogue was so clear and poignant in its message.
“Here’s a secret…There’s a 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.”
Overall: While the romance wasn’t a hit with me, I loved the premise of this book and the questions it brought up: Would we kick people out of their homes and schools if an incurable strand of disease, even with a low transmission rate, appeared? Would society start a witch hunt for anyone who exhibited potential symptoms? How do we mitigate the huge gap in the standard of care that patients would receive based on their socio-economic status? Would it be worth the risk to try a cure even if it had a high fatality rate? I loved reading the Author’s Note at the end of this novel because Robyn Schneider talks about her educational background in writing and bioethics and how she came to ask these questions herself and build a story around them. Extraordinary Means is a solid, quick read that may not have the most compelling romance but challenges readers to examine society’s relationship with illness in the modern age.
*Please note that all quotations are subject to change as they were taken from an advanced reader copy. Please check a final copy of the book for exact quotations.
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge