“It was the end of September, and I was seventeen, and my senior year was taking place four hundred miles away, without me… I tried not to think about it because I was pretty sure the full weight of my situation would crush me.”
– Robyn Schneider, Extraordinary Means
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 have to define you, and that falling in love is its own cure. Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about true friendships, ill-fated love and the rare miracle of second chances.
At first glance, Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider appears to be one of the many sickness stories popping up in young adult fiction. Many of the books follow in the footsteps of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green where they follow the journey of a sick teen, usually with an illness that is familiar to the general population. Mental health is also being explored more and more in an attempt to raise awareness of the experiences of others and to remove the stigma that is still attached to it. So what makes Extraordinary Means any different?
Tuberculosis is a disease that has plagued human kind since day dot. It is characterised by a cough, fatigue, weight loss and fever and has been romanticised throughout the ages. TB has been seen as both a fashion statement and a creative genius with some of the most prominent authors, artists and musicians suffering from the illness. The first of the sanatoriums – or open air sanctuaries – was opened in the Bavarian Alps in 1854 which then lead to open air schools and private institutions where patients were segregated from those who weren’t sick while they recovered by the ‘rest cure’. Schneider has imagined a TB epidemic in modern day America to try and represent it as a true illness, not the ‘quaint melodrama’ it is oft made out to be.
When Lane arrives at Latham House, he is physically and mentally consumed by his studies and is letting his life pass by in the wake of studying. All he can focus on is getting better so that he doesn’t miss the early college applications. Needless to say he is horrified when there is no homework set after the first class! Lane is easily distracted through when it comes to Sadie; she is no longer the geeky thirteen-year-old from summer camp but a lively and rebellious teen who rules Latham House. While Lane thinks he can live later in life, Sadie is afraid to live. She has been at Latham House the longest of all the sick kids and is afraid of life on the outside. Their relationship blooms, as does Lane’s friendship with Sadie’s sidekicks Nick, Charlie and Marina. They get up to all sorts of mischief but the fear of their sickness always looms above.
There are so many things going on in this book. It’s not just a book about sick kids; it’s about the isolation and loneliness. Those who are whisked away to ‘get better’ are really being hidden away to prevent others from getting sick. It is about being an outsider, to be viewing life from the periphery while wishing to be a part of the action. Each of the characters shows extraordinary bravery; their ability to let it all go, to embrace the life they have around them. It doesn’t mean that they don’t miss the lives they had and what they had to leave behind, but they learn to make the most of what they do have. It is a beautiful story of second chances and I think Schneider’s goal to humanise the illness experience has well and truly been achieved. I loved every second of this book and I am so very glad that it turned out the way it did (Schneider first imagined a sanatorium full of vampires). It made me laugh out aloud and cry silent tears. It is up and down and light and dark, all in equal measures. Extraordinary Means has definitely earned its place among my favourites for 2015!
AUTHOR: Robyn Schneider
PUBLISHER: Simon and Schuster
PUB DATE: 1 June 2015
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!