A Rambling Review: Extraordinary Means by Robin Schneider

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4 Stars

“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.”

-Summary from goodreads.com

 I was a huge fan of Robyn Schneider’s first book The Beginning of Everything (if you haven’t read it, I would definitely recommend you do so), so I figured I’d give her new book a try. Especially since I’ve been in a mild book slump lately where I need something to read, but nothing sounds good. I bought the book on the day it came out and was finished by it later that night. It’s not necessarily the most uplifting story (I mean a major plot point is Total Drug Resistant Tuberculosis so what can you expect) but it’s still manages to be extremely engaging and witty.

This book is extremely well written and researched, to the extent that it took me a little while to realize that TDR-tuberculosis didn’t actually exist and TB sanatoriums no longer exist in the US. I mean, in the back of my mind I knew that they couldn’t exist but Schneider paints such a vivid description of Latham that I found myself buying into the fantasy (dystopia? whatever you want to call it) and the world that she built.

Both Lane and Sadie were great characters. I could definitely identify with Lane’s over achieving tendencies, though he was a bit more motivated than I was, coming from lovingly nicknamed “nerd herd” in high school . His character development and self-realization was something that I found really interesting, and I like the way his individual story played out alongside the main romance of the novel. Sadie on the other hand, I had more trouble identifying with, but she was still a great character. She was brave, witty, outspoken, and stubborn. I liked her character because she took risks and spoke her mind. She’s the type of person that I think most people want to be, but she was not without her flaws.

Robyn Schneider does a great job of incorporating the secondary characters into the story, but without making them seem like after thoughts or props to advance the plot. It’s easy to connect with all the characters. Nick, Charlie, and Marina all had important parts to play in the story and had distinct voices and personalities.

I also enjoyed the way the romance progressed in the novel. Including the shared summer camp background between Sadie and Lane helped to create and already existing connection between the characters so it didn’t feel like it came out of the left field. I think Sadie and Lane balanced each other well, as they were almost foils of each other. Sadie made Lane more outgoing (as did his circumstances around being in a sanatorium potentially dying of tuberculosis), and Lane balanced some of Sadie’s ideas. Typically I’m wary of the alternating point of view style of writing but I think it worked well in this story. While I tended to enjoy Lane’s POV slightly more, the two voices were distinct enough that I always knew who’s POV i was reading but similar enough that it blended well and felt like a cohesive narrative.

One of the things that drew me to Robyn Schneider’s first book, and this one as well, was her witty style of writing. While at times it can be a bit overdone, for the most part it showcases intelligent and witty comments from all of her characters. A lot of the character’s conversations reminded me of ones I would have with my high school friends (the aforementioned nerd herd).

While I would recommend this book to fans of The Fault In Our Stars, I would be hesitant to compare them. Robyn Schneider has a similar writing style to John Green, which is why I think it will appeal to fans of his books. My biggest pet peeve is when one book reaches high levels of success, anything with a remotely similar plot line (i.e. terminally ill teenagers, dystopia etc…) automatically gets compared to, or worse called a copy of, the successful version. I enjoyed both this book and TFIOS but for different reasons and they feel very different from each other. This book also reminded me of one my favorite books Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern in that they both explore how extreme circumstances can draw together groups of people who otherwise never would interact.

Overall this book was a quick, interesting read that, while not being happy exactly, is darkly humorous. A fair warning: if you’re like me and kind of terrified of disease outbreak, this book might freak you out a little bit so don’t do what I did and read it all night because then when it’s 3am you’ll regret it. But don’t let the TB storyline throw you off because it’s still highly enjoyable.

-Colleen

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