Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

In brief: When Lane is sent away to a special boarding school for sick teenagers, he thinks his life is over. But Latham House opens up many new avenues for him, but mainly how to live and how to love.

The good: It’s interesting, heartfelt and a lovely read for any age.

The not-so-good: Sad at times!

Why I chose it: I was interested the premise and I’ve always loved boarding school stories. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the eARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 352 (eARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: USA

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

I’m kind of envious of the young adults of today. They get so many good books! So even though I don’t look much like a student any more, I’ve joined the ranks of adults reading young adult fiction. I love the hope and feeling that anything is possible with YA fiction as well as facing up to the big topics – life, love and death. Extraordinary Means covers all these things, wrapped up in a ‘what-if’ scenario that really, could be all too true.

I was first attracted to the cover of Extraordinary Means – hey, I thought, that upside down tree looks like a pair of lungs. Is this a book about CF (cystic fibrosis)? Then I read the blurb and I was enticed. The story is about a group of teenagers, who have ‘total-drug resistant’ tuberculosis (TB) and are whisked away to an old boarding school in the country where they can’t infect anyone. The hope is that they get better…but the reality is that some will (and do) die. Modern medicine has failed these young adults and their treatment is a healthy diet, gentle exercise and rest. As TB is spread by droplets (such as coughing), their teachers set them a task and leave the room. There isn’t even any homework. Sounds like fun in a way, right?

Lane doesn’t think so. Before he got TB he was a super student, ticking all the boxes to attend a top college and then move onto Wall Street. He’s super focused and incredibly studious. TB wasn’t part of his life plan and he’s appalled that studies don’t seem to be a big focus at Latham House. But he’s also intrigued by Sadie, a girl he met at camp many years ago, who doesn’t give a toss for the rules (in fact, she runs a black market for candy and alcohol). But what’s more, Sadie appears to be having fun. Against his better nature, Lane becomes involved in Sadie’s circle of friends and finds out that living isn’t simply being on one track to success.

I loved this book. I adored boarding school stories growing up and Extraordinary Means ticks those boxes. I also liked the way it combined medicine with the realities that these teens faced. It’s scary enough to be a teenager, let alone one wearing a monitor 24/7 (there’s a horrifying, yet amusing scene showing what can happen when your heart rate gets a little too high and the nurses have to intervene). These characters are also separated from the families and everything they know – there’s no cars, no internet, no mobile phones. It’s kind of like a retreat into history in multiple ways – lack of technology and lack of ability of medicine to cure. Robyn Schneider is a bioethicist by trade and this shows in the way she handles the medical issues in this book. It’s brilliant and I couldn’t fault it. Everything is plausible and just that little bit scary because in 2015, we’re freakishly close to the bottom of the box when it comes to treating infectious conditions.

The feelings in this book are intense too – perhaps because the characters are facing a life or death situation and nothing is off limits. It’s refreshing in its honesty. I think the yin and yang between Sadie and Lane helps to highlight that. Lane comes to Latham House, seeing it as merely an inconvenience to his studies, determined to keep on the same track. Sadie has reflected on her condition and that it might spell death and is determined to live life to the full in whatever time is left at Latham House. The other characters all have something to help them in their fight – music, video games, friendship or religion but Lane finds that studying doesn’t offer succour. The story is almost about how Lane came to life thanks to Sadie. It’s a story that doesn’t sugar-coat life’s tragedies, but it does celebrate the joys. This is a book to be savoured and enjoyed by all age groups.

 

 

 

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