“The life you plan isn’t the life that happens to you.”
Lane knows all about planning: he is the ultimate overachiever – his schedule is jam-packed with AP classes, study sessions to increase his SAT scores by just a few more points, and anything else that might boost his college résumé so he can impress the admissions board at Stanford. Meanwhile, Sadie is his polar opposite: she’s a fun, live-in-the-moment kind of girl, who spends her free time taking artistic photographs in the woods, and doesn’t quite set her sights on a future that may not even happen.
Yet as different as they are, Sadie and Lane do share something in common: a deadly and drug-resistant Tuberculosis strain, which is how they both end up at Latham House – a kind of boarding school for those so close to dying young, hoping to find a cure away from their friends and family who they wouldn’t want to infect. But instead of the dreary and morose atmosphere that might accompany a building full of the terminally ill, Sadie and her friends bring Lane into their roguish group, to wander the woods, smuggle contraband into their dorms, and find ways to undermine the constrictive rules of Latham: they choose to live, while they still can.
In Extraordinary Means, Robyn Schneider explores the idea of living life to the fullest, when we may not really have the time to lead a full-length life – the idea of getting a second chance to live life on your terms, for as long as you possibly can. This is what Lane discovers while being with Sadie, Nick, Charlie, and Marina – despite being terminally ill, they do not spend (all of) their time dwelling on what they no longer have, but instead on celebrating what they can still accomplish… even it’s as simple as stealing Internet access from the librarian!
“I realized then that I hadn’t had a life, I’d just had a life plan. […] I didn’t want to spend the next six years falling asleep at my desk with headphones on to block out the noise of everyone else having fun. I didn’t want to rush through all the moments that I wouldn’t know I wanted until they were gone.” Once he manages to slow down – and not necessarily by choice, but doctor’s orders – Lane discovers what he’s been missing: fun! He learns that breaking rules is enjoyable, having real friends to talk to and joke with feels great, and that connecting with others who share the same disease that could kill you, isn’t so bad. Turns out taking a step back from burning the stick at both ends, is even good for Lane’s overall health.
Unfortunately for Sadie, her experience isn’t quite the same. “I was living with TB, which is better than dying from it, but month after month, my X-rays and blood tests came back the same. And I didn’t know which change would be more terrifying, the death sentence I’d been dreading since sophomore year, or the ticket home to a life I’d missed far too much of to ever fully recover, and a world that would always treat me as an outsider if they knew.” While for Lane, Latham is a temporary escape, for Sadie, this is really where she feels most like herself, knowing that not only would the outside world keep her at arm’s length because of her illness, but also that she couldn’t be the confident, rule-breaker she is at Latham anywhere else.
Nonetheless, throughout the various interactions between this band of happy-go-lucky cool kids of Latham – both the mischievous and the heart breaking – Robyn Schneider highlights an important message: “Being temporary doesn’t make something matter any less, because the point isn’t for how long, the point is that it happened.”
Extraordinary Means is a beautifully told coming-of-age love story, which tugs at your heartstrings, while deepening your appreciation for those who matter right now.