Friday, December 25, 2015

Extraordinary Means, by Robyn Schneider

In the not-so-distant future, a new drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis has developed and reached epidemic proportions.  Without a means to treat the disease, society has turned back to the sanatorium approach.  Lane, obsessed with boosting his SAT scores and getting into Stanford, finds it hard to adjust to Latham House, his new home.  And the change of regimen (rest and relaxation) grates against everything he's strived for.  But unless he stops working so hard, the disease will kill him.  Sadie, on the other hand, has been stuck at this place for so long that she can no longer imagine life outside its walls.  

Faced with an incurable disease, a society that pities and fears them, and a longing for a normal life, this novel explores a wide array of issues, both emotional and ethical.  And it also finds time to explore a touching and rewarding romance between two young people united by the same threat to their survival, coping with it in very different ways.

The result is utterly stunning.  Dying teens as subject matter is of course going to be heartbreaking literary material, but in the hands of an excellent writer, you can do amazing things with it.  The obvious reference point is John Green's philosophical and witty The Fault In Our Stars and Schneider dutifully acknowledges the debt.  However, this book is quite different.  Schneider's interest is in the social/emotional effects of incurable disease:  how society treats the sufferers as well as how they respond to that treatment.  And her interest is not just literary.  Schneider holds a degree in medical ethics from UPenn and this informs fairly lucid discussions in the story of topics ranging from alternative therapy to the prioritization of treatment.  The result is an intelligent novel that brings up a lot of deep thoughts.  That it places all of this amid vivid characters, a touching friendship, and a heartbreaking story is a bonus.  The result is haunting and memorable.

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