Book Review: Extraordinary Means
By: Robyn Schneider
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Page Count: 336
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary
Disease is a scary topic and one that can send my mind spiraling down paths of worry and anxiety. Infectious diseases without cures are terrifying realities for many. Sadly, this isn't a new trend. People have been living and dying in the face of pathogens for centuries. I often stop to think about what life would have been like during historical epidemics like the Bubonic Plague and the Spanish Influenza. In my lifetime, I have seen several epidemics, but the most recent Ebola outbreak is the most vivid in my mind. The whole world seemed to be holding its breath waiting to see where and when the dreaded disease would rear its ugly head once more. Robyn Schneider uses disease as a backdrop to her commentary on the human condition and those moments that define our lives.
In Extraordinary Means, we meet five teenagers who are suffering from an uncurable strain of tuberculosis. The teens have been sent to Latham, a sanitarium in the countryside to rest and hopefully recover from their affliction. Tuberculosis is highly contagious so the teens must stay within the sanitarium's grounds and wear medical bracelets. The bracelets are constantly transmitting their vitals to the medical stuff at Latham. Nobody wants to hear the dreaded beeping that comes from a bracelet when a patient is in extreme duress. Those beeps often indicate a trip to the hospital wing or the end of a young life.
Tuberculosis is one of those diseases I don't think much about these days. It seems like such an archaic disease in many ways. I did some research though while reading this one and learned that it is still a killer in many countries in the world today. In the US alone, hundreds of new cases arise each year. There was a significant resurgence of the disease in the US in 1992. These facts were new to me. My great great grandmother died from tuberculosis; it is not a disease that should be killing people in the modern era. I found the concept of the disease evolving beyond the available medicines to be a realistic and frightening plot device. We are constantly hearing about the dangers of becoming immune to antibiotics and the controversy over not vaccinating children. These health concerns make this read all too relevant. Extraordinary Means made me want to understand contagions, like tuberculosis, rather than just blindly accepting what the media pedals on the nightly news.
Disease aside, this novel is also about people. Too often people become defined by their health conditions. I liked that the five teens the novel focuses on become people outside of their ailment. The main two characters are Sadie and Lane. Sadie has been at Latham for awhile and she doesn't know if she will ever return home. She's made Latham her oyster and every day she sucks the marrow out of life. She doesn't let her TB status hang over her head like a death sentence. On the other hand, Lane is a newbie to Latham. He craves his old life - the life before TB crept into his lungs and took control - and he keeps his mind focused on gaining admission to Stanford and hoping for a cure. He is instantly drawn to Sadie and her companions. The relationship that forms between Sadie and Lane is memorable and bittersweet. I also enjoyed their interactions with Nick, Charlie, and Marina. The supporting characters are vivid and charismatic. I also loved the frequent Harry Potter references that were tossed about by this group. It made my heart happy.
Ultimately, this story revolves around a group of very sick kids. To say it's a happy uplifting tale would be a lie, but it doesn't mean that the whole novel is depressing either. I will admit that there were some moments I shed a few tears and had to put this one to the side for awhile. It had moments that were akin to The Fault in Our Stars - emotionally overwhelming sprinkled with happiness, friendship, and love. I would suggest saving this one for a time when a serious, emotional read isn't going to be an issue. For me, I can't always handle books that pummel my heart, leaving it bruised and aching, but other times I crave the raw emotion.
Extraordinary Means reminded me (like the Fault in Our Stars) that our lives are a measured number of days and I need to make each one count. It's hard to remember that in the face of stress, hectic schedules, and bad days. Things can always be worse. I need to revel in those who love me, my dear friends, and live every day to the fullest extent.
One Last Gripe: I liked this one, but I never let myself truly get lost in the world of Latham. This could largely be based on the fact that I didn't want to get too attached when I knew things could go wrong at any moment. I read this one with a great sense of trepidation. It was emotionally and mentally exhausting at times.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I found the medical aspects to be fascinating, but I also was drawn to the friendships.
First Sentence: My first night at Latham House, I lay awake in my narrow, gabled room in Cottage 6 wondering how many people had died in it.
Favorite Character: Lane
Least Favorite Character: Nick - he was equal parts hilarious and frustrating
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.