Robyn Schneider’s “Extraordinary Means” is equal parts charm and cheese.
Set in present day, the story reveals that a new drug resistant strain of tuberculosis is ravaging the country and claiming thousands of lives. Lane, one main character, has just been diagnosed and is shipped off to a sanatorium named Latham House, a half-hospital half-boarding school for teens to seek treatment. Sadie, the other main character, is a long-time patient and unlikely acquaintance from Lane’s childhood. When they meet again via uncomfortable circumstances, they quickly throw a wrench in each other’s carefully plotted lives.
Lane and Sadie both make for very likable main characters. Every other chapter cycled between their points of view, so getting to see Latham House through both the eyes of a naive newbie, and a more cynical hospital veteran, offered great perspective on a disease I knew little about. Lane and Sadie had different versions of the same problem: they both struggled with the present. Lane was fixated on the future, obsessed with perfect grades, getting into Stanford to get a great job, forcing himself to let opportunities to actually enjoy his youth sail on by. Sadie, however, was stuck on her past, where she was bullied for most of her childhood and then vastly overcompensated with trying to be the most interesting and cool person in any given room. Lane grew the most of the two by a longshot, but Sadie was self-aware enough to have consciously acknowledged their problem and tried to fix it. You really feel for them when you realize how much normality they’ve given up and quickly they’ve had to grow up in the wake of their apparent sentence.
Lane and Sadie’s friend group wasn’t nearly as compelling, though. They were flat and cliché unfortunately, very much trying to be like typical John Green characters. Schneider wanted so badly for them to be those nerdy-chic-rebellious kids you wanted to be in high school, but they often came off stiff and too idealized for it to work. Sure, I cared about all of them as their illnesses progressed, but I never loved them either.
The writing overall was just average for me. There was a lot of humor to this book, and I liked all of the pop culture references and pranks the group pulled, but nothing in the writing blew me away. The plot kept me guessing for the most part, even though it lacked as much meaty depth as I would have liked. The first two thirds were focused primarily on Lane and Sadie’s romance and adventures, while the final third took on a major tonal shift and brought the story back down to earth. A lot of the story was made up of convenient plot devices, stupid decisions or overly quotable dialogue, but then the story would quickly balance out with a touch of originality. The pacing was choppy, then, flipping from cliched to original so frequently, which was irritating.
This is a novel rife with humor, heart and second chances. The TB crisis was both terrifying and such a cool What If scenario. The romance was borderline insta-love, but is sure to make you smile. Despite everything I personally found cliched or forced, the only way you’re going to be bothered by any of it is if you have read a ton of YA yourself and are familiar with a lot of its patterns and tropes. Otherwise, you’re probably going to be engrossed for the majority of this book.
Verdict: 3.5/5 stars