Friday, June 24, 2016

A Story of Friendship in the Face of Sickness: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release: May 26, 2015
Source: Library
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.
80%. Those are the odds of leaving Latham House, a sanatorium for teenagers afflicted by a new drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, alive.

25%. Those are the odds that a previously-developed medication, the best treatment that's currently available, will cure you. But those are also the odds that it will kill you. It's an extraordinary means of treatment, administered only in the most extreme situations. And so for now, Sadie and Lane, along with several other high school students uprooted from their lives, are quarantined in California's Santa Cruz Mountains, waiting for their lungs to heal, waiting for a cure.

But Extraordinary Means is not a story of statistics and probabilities. Or, rather, it is—but more than that, it is a story of people. It is a story of friendship, of coming of age, of finding meaning in life. And Robyn Schneider tells this extraordinary story through two fantastic main characters and their dynamic group of friends.

Lane has always been an overachiever, the kind of student who forgoes taking classes that interest him in favor of preserving his class rank, the kind who spends Saturday after Saturday re-taking the SAT, desperate to increase his score by 30 points. He has a strict life plan that includes Stanford, graduate school, and a high-powered career, and he never pauses to appreciate the journey—or to consider that his goals may be derailed. But when he is admitted to Latham, the mandated relaxation and recovery policy gives him, for the first time in years, a sprawling series of free hours waiting to be filled. The result is a tale of learning to view life as more than a series of hurdles to jump over in pursuit of ever-elusive "success," and Lane's path to this realization shines with epiphanies and beautiful quotes. His initial reluctance to put down his AP textbooks slowly dissolves into habitual rule-breaking and whim-chasing with his new friends, creating a perfectly-paced character development that is equal parts fun, poignant, and relatable—especially for the more studious of YA readers.

Latham likewise transforms Sadie, a shy and passive teenager who becomes a bold and outgoing leader amongst her TB-afflicted peers. Although readers see a less vivid picture of her character growth (Extraordinary Means opens with Lane's arrival, at which time Sadie has been quarantined for over a year), flashbacks still shine a spotlight on the contrast between her early teenage self and late teenage self. I found a certain satisfaction in watching her shed her meek middle school persona and assemble a group of friends composed of the wittiest, most interesting patients at Latham House—a group whose sarcasm goes on to provide much-needed comic relief and to make readers dangerously attached to their endearing personalities.

The immense character growth that takes place at Latham House creates a fascinating dichotomy between the facility's reputation (a temporary holding place in which to await, with luck, recovery) and its true nature (a place whose close ties to death in fact inspire patients to live to the fullest while they have the chance). As a result, Schneider is able to portray her characters in a refreshingly destigmatized light, crafting a tale that in many ways reads like a realistic love- and coming-of-age story. The chronic illness element does not overpower the plot; rather, it supports and individualizes a classic story. Extraordinary Means is not a tale of death, but a story of learning to value the moments leading up to it, emphasized and made more relevant by a creatively imagined strain of tuberculosis.

Complete with Schneider's signature clever characters (almost unrealistically clever, but you won't find me complaining), Extraordinary Means is a spectacular sophomore novel. I read it in the span of three days because I could not put it down, during which time it sparked in me a spectrum of varying emotions. It is hilarious and heartbreaking, addictive and thought-provoking, speculative and realistic—and ultimately, it is a reminder that life, however short or long, should be appreciated. The patients at Latham House may face a 1/5 chance of death, but they learn to celebrate the far greater statistical improbability of their life—through music, through adventure, through friendship—and their story will inspire readers to do the same.

2 comments:

  1. I haven't read any books by Robyn Schneider but I've been considering this one for such a long time. I'm not the biggest fan of coming of age but this book seems to really just make me want to read it. Must be the characters because they sound relatable to me or maybe how you emphasize how it's a story of valuing moments. Either way, I'm definitely adding this to my tbr now :)

    czai @ the Blacksheep Project

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  2. This books sounds stunning! I've heard some people say they enjoy it, but I haven't heard such high praise before. I love books about friendship and the powers of it. Often I find these books to be more emotional than romance books. (You may have mentioned this and it just didn't register with me, but...) Does this one have any romance? That's usually a big turn-off for me in sad books about illness, but you have convinced me to read it because of how moving and emotional it sounds. Lovely review! ♥

    Denise | The Bibliolater

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