Young & Dying: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Today we are traveling to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Southern California.

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When I was little I used to read all these Lurlene McDaniel books about dying teenagers. I don’t know, I guess I thought it was dramatic or I liked being sad. Whatever it was I ate them up. But, we live in a post-The Fault in Our Stars world now and any book about sick teenagers is ultimately going to be compared to John Green’s massively successful novel.

Here I think the comparison is probably apt. This book is told in the same precocious, sort of adorable prose. But this didn’t have the same inevitability that The Fault in Our Stars did for me. I remember after the movie came out one of my friends commented that she thought one of the main characters died when it turned out to be the other. Now, I don’t want to spoil TFIOS or anything, but one of those kids wasn’t going to make it to the end and it’s told in a first person narrative. So… yeah. Here I wasn’t sure where it would go, until it’s final outcome. I wasn’t exactly surprised but there were elements that I definitely didn’t see coming.

The book is told from the point of view of two different people; Lane and Sadie. Overachieving Lane is diagnosed with Total Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (it seems this does exist, but I haven’t researched it enough to comment) in his senior year of high school and is sent to Latham House, a sanatorium for teenagers ailing from the disease. Already in residence is Sadie, who Lane met at summer camp when they were thirteen. Sadie has already been at Latham for over a year and has seen no improvement, but also no worsening, of her TDR TB. Predictably the two soon find themselves falling into something reminiscent of love. But being told you’re sick and feeling sick are not always the same thing. Sadie and her friends are the troublemakers of Latham, goofing off and running a black market ring of contraband candy and alcohol through a Starbucks employee in the nearby town. But their actions have real world consequences for which the teenagers are ill prepared. They all have a lot of growing up to do, but with an incurable strain of a deadly disease time is not on their side.

I thought most of the characters were well drawn and complete, particularly Lane and Sadie, who may be a bit twee at times but were more endearing than not. It is possible to substitute character development for inevitable young death, but Schneider doesn’t do that here. More often than not they seem like regular teenagers at a boarding school rather than patients at a sanatorium. Which is good, because even dying teenagers are still teenagers that press buttons without thinking of the consequences. I enjoyed Sadie’s best friend, Nick, who’s obvious crush on her was clear to everyone but Sadie. But his resentments over Lane and Sadie’s relationship didn’t overshadow the rest of the book.

Most of this novel was shockingly normal, to it’s credit, with devastating consequences. It was the sort of book that hits you right in the feels. It hurt. And I can see how someone could find it manipulative and/or typical. But I didn’t. To me it felt true, if these circumstances existed I believe fully that this is how these character would behave. And I think that’s all you can really ask for.

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