Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

17 04 2012

Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory’s magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe-but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself. Soon she’ll discover the shocking truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe’s ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn’t been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?

This book came highly recommended by a number of people, who told me that it was a “fantastic, dark twist on fairies”. That summary is a perfect understanding of what Extraordinary is.

Phoebe and Mallory have been best friends forever, since seventh grade when Mallory moved to town and Pheobe befriended her. The girls are the best of friends and tell each other everything, from their secrets to who they’re crushing on what they think of the homework. Their friendship is strained, however, when Mallory’s long-lost brother Ryland comes to town. Ryland is mentally abusive and extremely attractive, and he lures Phoebe into his grip — and away from her tight friendship. Soon Mallory and Phoebe have ended their friendship, stuck between a boy. Phoebe must try and figure out what is up with Mallory and Phoebe, and understand her relationship (both romantically and platonically) with Ryland.

I think that one of the best explanations of Phoebe and her character comes from the School Library Journal (starred) review of this title: “Phoebe’s intullectual and emotional transformation from ordinary to extraordinary is of her own volition,, which makes her the compelling force of this bittersweet fairy tale.”

That reviewer, frankly, hits it straight on the head. I’ve discussed in other reviews (particularly in  my review of Frankie-Landau Banks) that in many contemporary YA titles, and in many very impressive and strong reviews, reviewers complain about young adult heroines. They’re needy, clingy, dependent on stalker-ish boyfriends, etc. Frankie Landau Banks is a great example of girls who go outside of this boundary, girls who are brave and strong.

Extraordinary, in many ways, is a rebuttal to the idea that girls in YA literature have to be boring and relentless towards boys. It proves its points in many ways.

I think I can add Phoebe to the strong, brave girl list, as well. Even though she starts off considering herself ordinary and says that she is ordinary many times, in her speech and in the narrative (and it is her remark that she is ordinary that sets the climax forward) she truly changes and grows and becomes a better person. Ryland is in the picture, yes, but she is the one that really changes herself through her arc. Her entire change is her own, and she’s a very compelling character as she tries to determine — what does it mean to be extraordinary?  It’s a compelling question and one that Werlin explains — but does not give a definite answer to — throughout the narrative.

The other characters are strong as well. I loved how Ryland’s actions are not written off simply as “being a boy” but shown as cruel and heartless and inexcusable, how the reader can see Phoebe’s choices and feelings towards him but also see his many cruel qualities. Mallory is a smart girl, strong and creative but buckling under the “powers that will be” as she tries to understand her new life and her life.

In regards to the plot, Nancy Werlin explains to the reader what Ryland and Mallory are long before Phoebe discovers the truth, and the review blurbs give away a few spoilers as well. So essentially you cannot enter this book without  knowing some things about the truth and the role that faeries play in the story. But the plot is still intriquing and twisting, and even as we are one step ahead of Phoebe and can figure out the clues faster than she can, it’s still a riveting read, and I loved how Werlin trusted her readers to understand the mystery long before the characters did. The climax in particular is especially chilling and poignant. I also loved the ending, which is perfect as well as bittersweet.

The mythology that Werlin injects into the story is also impressive, and the Rothschild family (who Phoebe and her parents are descendants of) were real people. That made the mythology much more fascinating even as the author took some liberties with the original stories. Google Mayer Rothschild and you’ll see how interesting Werlin made his and his family’s story (because usually stories about people who start banking empires….well, they can be a bit boring). The world building is strong and everything made sense in the end.

Werlin’s writing is strong, and it is evident that she is an experienced writer. (She has published many books prior to Extraordinary.)

I really did enjoy this heartwarming and interesting book for it’s unique take on faeries and its chilling, elegant story.

4.5 stars.

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