Review: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Image from Goodreads

Title: Extraordinary Means 
Author: Robyn Schneider
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: June 2015
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 5/5

Synopsis from Goodreads

A bitter-sweet, coming-of-age novel that’s perfect for fans of John Green and Stephen Chbosky.

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.


Extraordinary Means chronicles the lives of two teenagers, Lane and Sadie, who fall in love at Latham
House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from incurable tuberculosis. The novel illustrates
how Lane, an overachieving, conscientious student, encounters Sadie a girl he met years
ago who has completely transformed from a shy to fearless and intriguing. Lane is
compelled by Sadie’s group of eccentric, unusual friends and as Lane becomes one of them
he learns the secrets of Latham and a relationship blossoms between them on the brink of
cure to their fatal disease.

The novel adopts an interesting structure as it alternates from Lane’s point of view to
Sadie’s. In this way, we are given insight to the mind’s of both main characters and we thusly
see, through this structural device, how each of them become more integral to the other
person’s lives. Like an unfolding diary, this alternating point of view adds a freshness and
originality to a familiar story and themes. In terms of the characterisation of Lane, he is
depicted to be a very introverted character at the beginning and we see his desire to do well
in school. Yet, as Lane’s relationship with Sadie developes he opens up and Schneider is
able to delve into his opinions more. Sadie is an interesting figure as we see from Lane’s
depiction of her in the past how she has grown and how this illness and being at Latham has
shaped her. The dual narrative allows for the focus of the book to be on their relationship
and I enjoyed the fact had they previously met as this showed how impressions can change
and paths can cross in unusual and unexpected ways and Schneider addresses this later in
the book as he touched upon the seemingly smallest of events can lead to a chain events
that can dramatically shape one’s life. If I were to criticise one aspect of the narrative choice
it would be that sometimes Lane and Sadie were not delineated enough and so it was
possible to lose track of who was narrating chapter it was, but, overall it was an effective
narrative vehicle for this story.

As for the minor characters the most notable are Micheal and Nick. The character of
Nick I found was developed with sensitivity and the look into how he coped with his illness
added another layer to the story. Micheal’s role is of a particular importance in the novel and
without revealing any plot points I will say that his storyline took me by surprise and was
handled in a touching manner that illustrated the fragility of life.

The setting of Latham house was a key feature in the novel as it was integral to the
illustration of how their disease had isolated them from the rest of the world. The beautiful
exterior which was accurately portrayed through Schneider’s imagery contrasted the
physical pain their disease caused for them. However, the insular Latham house allowed for
Lane and Sadie’s love to truly develop which became the focus point of the novel and added
the necessary elements of romance to an otherwise tragic portrayal of those suffering from
an illness.

The plot was fairly straightforward and was lacked any confusing subplots as the
author’s focus was mainly on the love between Sadie and Lane. Schneider was able to
convey the plot with ease and depict these two lovers trapped by their illness and the
ever-present threat of death. The introduction of the cure I felt was a little rushed and felt too
fictional at times, however, the “cure” was used more to examine ideas of death and life
which allowed the author to look into the impermanence of life and how this affected the
characters. Similarly, I particularly liked the author’s ability to use medical ideas and
practises and show them through the eyes of the main characters as this allowed for me as
a reader to empathise with Lane and Sadie. The ending choice was bold and effective as it
underscored the severity of their diseases and their precarious love. Moreover, it ended on a
pensive thought of choosing one’s own path in life with an interesting extended metaphor
that encapsulated the author’s concluding message.

Extraordinary Means can seen as a romance novel with elements of dark comedy.
Schneider presents us with many themes such as the innocence of first love, the
vulnerability of life, friendship and suffering. Schneider also touches upon some existential
questions such as the nature and purpose of pain, the influence of the past, the nature of
love and the possibility of second chances. These ideas are handled with maturity and are a
way of introducing teenager readers to more complex themes and questions.

Overall, Extraordinary Means is poignant look at the effect an illness can have on a
teenager but also the power of first love. The themes are dealt with elegantly and the
relationship between our two protagonists is real and heartfelt. Schneider’s writing style in
unpretentious and is great for those who are interested in character driven novels as
opposed to plot or world building. However, I would parenthesis this by saying that there is
some explicit language and scenes that should be for mature readers due to their sexual
content. In conclusion I would recommend this novel to those who enjoy the likes of John
Green, Stephen Chbosky or even Ernest Hemingway as there are parallels between their
work and this novel. It will make you cry, laugh and consider how we perceive illness and
disease today.

This review first appeared on Reading Rescue

Author: Book Angel

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