Extraordinary Means, Ordinary Book

“Being temporary doesn’t make something matter any less, because the point isn’t for how long, the point is that it happened.”

It’s become almost the Romeo and Juliet of contemporary young adult fiction: the Sick Kids Story. Two young people meet, either one or both of them cursed with misfortune of having a terminal illness, they fall in love, and eventually one is left to suffer over the other’s passing. Contemporary novelists sure have given new meaning to the idea of star-crossed lovers.

After the release of The Fault in Our Stars, or perhaps even before—you should know that my undying affection of TFiOS might make me biased, so I’ll always think of it as the first, truly influential contemporary Sick Kids book—the young adult market has become saturated with this type of story. I’m not saying the theme of it all doesn’t matter, because it most certainly does, but it’s reached the point where I feel I’m reading the same thing over and over and over again. And I’m also not ignorant to the fact that all stories come from other stories, and it’s impossible to have something completely original, but a little variation wouldn’t kill anyone. Unfortunately, Extraordinary Means only adds to the saturation, giving it a label that makes its title ironic… ordinary.

So there is this boy, Lane, who is diagnosed with Total Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. Essentially it’s incurable, so to protect both him and the outside world he’s sent to Latham House. The facility is run specifically for kids diagnosed with the new strand of the old disease. Lane meets, or should I say remeets, Sadie. Sadie and her friends are the rebels of the House, and Lane’s intrigue compels him to become a part of their group. Together, they learn how to get through the suffering of “regular” teenage life while dealing with circumstances that are anything but normal.

For such a relatively brief book, Extraordinary Means took me so incredibly long to read; I felt like I had almost no emotional stake in the characters’ lives and reading it felt tedious. EM is told in alternating points of view between Sadie and Lane. While I normally appreciate this literary choice, in this case I felt it was unnecessary. Splitting narration time between the two main characters gives insight into both sides of the story, yes, but it also makes it harder to establish an emotional stake in any one character. Had it been all Lane or all Sadie, I’m positive I would have gotten a better sense of what it felt like to be in his/her shoes, and reading wouldn’t have felt so distant.

The drag didn’t end until the last 15% of the book. By that point I was feeling things I should have felt in the first 15%. That’s like, Rule #1 in Successful Story Telling: hook readers quickly. Robyn Schneider could have published just the last 45 pages and the book’s point would have come across just the same without all of the exposition.

Not all is lost. The overwhelming number of Sick Kid books exists for a reason, and I’m not one to discredit reasoning for anything. Sick kids might be sick, but that doesn’t mean they fail to be anything other than sick. Too often we tend to brand people with their illnesses. The point Schneider, most clearly told through her series of brilliant one-liners, and many others are trying to make is that second chances exist, sickness is not a defining factor, and life can continue on by extraordinary means.

If you’re unlike me and haven’t read enough books like this one to make you blue in the face, or you simply don’t tire from reading the same story repeatedly, you should give this book a try. My bias aside, maybe someday a new contemporary fiction book will come along to change the face of the Sick Kid Story, but I’m afraid Extraordinary Means is not it.

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