Thursday, May 28, 2015

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Title: Extraordinary Means
Author: Robyn Schneider
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Source: ARC from Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon / Book Depository / Indigo
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 that it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encountered 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.

Robyn Schneider’s debut, The Beginning of Everything, was one of my favourite reads when it came out in 2013. So Extraordinary Means was pretty high on my list of 2015 books I was anticipating. And this touching and heartbreaking story completely lived up to my expectations. 

Lane has spent the first seventeen years of his life planning for his future, always striving to be the best to ensure that his future is set. What Lane never planned for was becoming infected with an incurable strain of tuberculosis and being sent to a sanatorium for teens as a result. When he gets to Latham House, Lane quickly realizes that things are completely different and goes from always being at the top of his class to not understanding most of what is happening around him. But there is one upside to Latham House: Sadie. But Sadie isn’t the same girl Lane knew from summer camp when they were thirteen. At Latham, Sadie is part of a group of friends determined to push all the boundaries the sanatorium imposes on them. Lane is immediately drawn to Sadie and her friends, wanting, for once, to feel like part of the group. Before long, Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love while everyone around them continues to get sicker, and their world threatens to come crashing down around them. But what if second chances and a cure are possible?

Based on the emotional wringer I was put through while reading The Beginning of Everything, I was prepared for Robyn Schneider to basically break my heart with Extraordinary Means. I mean, this is a story about teens being sent away to boarding school-like institutions because they need to be quarantined. Sounds like the perfect premise for a happily ever after. Or not. But even knowing that going in, and having seen some of my friends’ reactions upon finishing the book, I still don’t think I was fully prepared for what this book did to me. This story started out sort of quiet. Or as quietly as a story about teens with an incurable illness can start. But then it sort of crept up on me. Though I don’t know that “crept up” is necessarily the right way to put it because I had a pretty good idea that this was going to happen to me while reading. Before too long, I was completely sucked into the story, with the characters worming their way into my heart and there was very little I could do about it. And that’s when I started worrying about what Extraordinary Means was going to do to my heart by that time I finished it. So when the punches started coming it was painful, but it was such a beautifully written story that it didn’t hurt too much. That doesn’t still mean I wasn’t bawling by the time I finished the book. Because I totally was. The last couple chapters were pretty hard to read through all the tears. But that’s what Lane, Sadie and their friends will do to you.

Robyn Schneider knows how write characters that leap off the page. This is something I loved about her debut, and I loved it again with Extraordinary Means. Even the characters who weren’t constantly at the forefront of the story felt real and fully formed. They all had something that defined them and made them feel that much more real while I was reading. Obviously this was true of Lane and Sadie. And I loved both of them and both of them had an interesting arc throughout the story. For Lane, it was finally feeling like he was part of something and living his life as opposed to just doing what was expected of him, while for Sadie it was about accepting that her life would continue even once she was able to leave Latham House. And that meant they were great for each other. Sadie helped Lane live his life instead of just achieve the next goal and he was able to make her see everything they could be outside the walls of Latham. Seeing them together made my heart happy but also caused me to worry a lot about what Robyn Schneider had in store for them and how my heart would react to that. And everything I felt about Lane and Sadie, I also felt about Nick, Marina and Charlie, the rest of their crew. Together, those five were responsible for a lot of tears. But in a way, it was really worth it to get to read their story.

Robyn Schneider wrote an absolutely beautiful, and at times heartbreaking, story in Extraordinary Means. Despite being about teens with tuberculosis, this story is not about sickness and death. It’s about living and what to do when life decides to give you a second chance.

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