Review: “Extraordinary Means” By Robyn Schneider

August 3, 2015

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green is an extremely popular young adult fiction novel, known for starring two cancer-stricken teenagers. Since then, almost every other young adult novel that features ailing teenagers has been compared to Green’s novel, regardless of whether or not the plots are actually similar.

However, “Extraordinary Means” by Robyn Schneider is, I think, one of the more similar “sick-fic” novels that have been released since Green’s. The two share a certain inspiring feel, stirring teenage girls to write out inspiring quotes in cursive and post them on Instagram.

“Extraordinary Means” is about Lane and Sadie, two teenagers who have been quarantined at Latham House after catching a new strain of Tuberculosis, one that’s immune to all current treatments. Lane, who is normally an extremely studious high school student (even by Diamond Bar standards), struggles to adapt to Latham House’s rules and regulations, “where it’s easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.”

The story is mostly about Lane’s transition from an obsessive student, frantically trying to make up AP work and writing essays for college applications, to someone who learns to relax and appreciate life. Generally, I’m one to appreciate character development, but my problem with this book is that Lane is a flat character, who is completely insufficient to drive the story and just follows the other characters around without really doing anything.

He arrives at Latham House, unable to accept that he has been infected with a disease that scientists are trying to discover a new cure for, and is unable to focus on anything other than upcoming college application deadlines, telling himself that if he can get over the tuberculosis in three months, he’ll still be able to attend his dream school, Stanford.

From then on, he faces a handful of random “challenges.” For example, his girlfriend, Hannah, asks him to proofread her essay for her Stanford application, where he finds out that it’s a complete sob story about how she’s had to be there by Lane’s side and hold his hand in his hospital room. Stricken, he immediately breaks up with her and drives himself, almost to the point of hospitalization, trying to prove that he can still study and write essays just like any other healthy person can.

Following several of these incidents, he befriends Sadie, whom he’d met before at summer camp several years ago, and she shows him “the meaning of life” through several adventures into the nearest town, while completely disregarding the fact that their fun and games could end up infecting dozens of other people. Lane is attracted to Sadie because she’s different from him; she smuggles Milk Duds and various bottles of alcohol on campus and skips class to take pictures of leaves with her hipster, vintage camera.

In a John Green-esque fashion, the writing is full of flowery quotes that are meant to be life changing in their simple truthfulness. Novelist Schneider attempts to create a balance between the formal/inspiring and the deadpan/colloquial, switching from “the thing about being a disaster in middle school is that the shame of it never fully goes away. Even after your braces are off and your hair is exactly the way girls wear it on Tumblr, underneath it all, you’re still just as unsure whether someone actually likes you,” to “I stepped out of Latham and transformed back into a potato.”

I do have to commend Schneider on her continual attempts to appeal to teenagers and their culture, with multiple references to Tumblr and Facebook and trying for laughs with the comparisons of teenage girls and potatoes.

However, for me, her inspiring quotes, “struggling” characters, and “humorous” writing fell flat, and I didn’t really enjoy the novel at all, which is unfortunate, because prior to reading “Extraordinary Means,” I had heard a lot about her other novel, “The Beginning of Everything.” If you’re looking for the Next Great Summer Read, maybe try something by Sarah J. Maas or Rainbow Rowell.

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