Extraordinary Means

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Extraordinary Means…  This story turns over and over in your head.  I read it a few days ago, but have had to sit on it for awhile.  It’s not a book that you want to rush to judgement on; my feelings for it have been all over the place since picking it up.

Type A-future-Wall Street-investor and super-nerd Lane is 17 years old and dealing with a new diagnosis of TDR-TB, or total drug resistant tuberculosis. He is sent to rehab at Latham House, part hospital and part boarding school, all sanatorium, and the only place where Lane discovers you can actually fail breakfast. And naptime.

On the first day, Lane recognizes a girl from camp. But instead of the brace-faced loner from his early teens, she has transformed in a beautiful, smart-aleck miscreant. She and her group of like-minded troublemakers draw Lane in like a magnet; he, who has never cared whether or not he “belongs” in his lifetime of overachieving, wants to become one of them. After a false start and the correction of a long held, if mistaken, grudge, he is absorbed into the mismatched group, and crosses more lines the first day than he has his entire existence.

Sadie, Nik, Charlie and Martina all have secrets, individually and as a group.  The black market smuggling ring, the illicit trips to Starbucks for butterbeer lattes (who knew?), juicebox vodka martinis and a general disregard for their own health and safety, just to name a few. They are, after all, teens. What could happen?

While normal teenage secrets and activities can sometimes be consequence free (beyond a hangover and a grounding), at Latham House, the fallout can be life-threatening. Lane and Sadie find each other, but TDR-TB has no sympathy for first love or teenage pranks.

Told in the alternating voices of Sadie and Lane, we see both sides of their relationship, and two views of illness. Both cope with love and loss so differently, so authentically.

Author Robyn Schneider has a degree in bioethics, and her knowledge and research are evident throughout the book. I had to do a bit of research myself after reading it, just to make sure it was, in fact, a story, and not real life. Scared the crap out of me, especially after I inhaled my tea by mistake and had a coughing fit lasting 20 minutes.

The story is set in a contemporary alternative reality.  All the terrible diseases we thought were eradicated have returned, and all are resistant to our former wonder drugs.  Polio, tuberculosis, Ebola, you name it. Back with a vengeance. And science cannot keep up.

The novel is dark, it is funny, it is heartbreaking.  It is about unlikely second chances, and what you make of them. It is the difference between being alive and living your life.

I wanted everyone to live happily ever after, with their time at Latham House an ever dwindling bad dream, until it became nostalgia.  But it can’t happen that way.

Read the author’s notes at the end; her explanation of how she came up with the story is fabulous. This novel is appropriate for all teens.

Extraordinary Means is published by Katherine Tegen Books.

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