Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

I found Extraordinary Means at the library. I had read one of Robyn Schneider’s other Young Adult books (The Beginning of Everything), so I was pleased to find this newly released book.

Extraordinary Means is the story of Lane and Sadie, two teenagers with an incurable strain of tuberculosis. They have been placed at Latham House, which used to be a boarding school, and now serves as a sanatorium. Lane and Sadie met before, several years earlier at a summer camp.

The chapters alternate between Lane’s perspective and Sadie’s. As the book begins, Lane is just arriving at Latham House; Sadie has been there for months. Lane’s biggest concern is keeping up with his AP coursework. Despite the diagnosis, he will not be deterred from his goal of getting into Stanford. The lackadaisical attitude of the teachers, and the busywork that the students are given comes as a shock to Lane. But everyone there is sick, and not everyone has energy to keep up with traditional coursework.

Sadie does not have a favorable opinion of Lane, based on an incident at camp all those years ago. But when he prevents a staff member from discovering Sadie and her friends engaged in illicit activities, Sadie realizes that he might not be the boy she thought he was.

As Lane becomes a full-fledged member of Sadie’s group, he begins to value what they have to offer. As his friends from home seem to be changing, he finds a new appreciation for his new friends. Sadie offers a fresh perspective, and the two teens realize that they have feelings for each other.

Extraordinary Means cannot avoid comparisons to that famous young adult novel about sick teens. But Extraordinary Means has nothing in common with A Fault in Our Stars, and it’s not trying to recreate the angst and sorrow in a book about teenagers with incurable diseases. Extraordinary Means is its own book. One of the most compelling things about the book is the relative quickness that the patients find themselves afflicted with tuberculosis. The disease is still at pandemic levels in developing parts of the world, but it is not nearly as common in the United States as it once was. Schneider invents a world in which tuberculosis has returned at unprecedented levels. The concept of the sanatorium has been dormant for decades, but it has to be resurrected to separate those who are infected to prevent the spread of the extremely contagious disease.

By placing the teens in an isolated environment, Schneider creates an interesting dynamic. Everyone at Latham is sick, and it is not surprising when someone succumbs to the disease. As a relatively new arrival, Lane shakes things up. He doesn’t necessarily intend to, but he does. Nothing is the same after his arrival.

I would absolutely recommend Extraordinary Means. This was a marvelous read. I experienced a full range of emotions as I read this book. Schneider is a talented writer, and she cites Mann and Ishiguro as inspirations for this story. I was surprised to learn in the author’s note that her background is in bioethics, and her passion for the subject is certainly evident in the text. Schneider has created two unique voices in Lane and Sadie, and this is a book that will stay with me for quite awhile.

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