** mild spoilers ahead **
Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new girl at school. Soon the two become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, appears. 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, fantastical truth about Ryland and Mallory, and about an age-old debt they expect Phoebe to pay. Will she be strong enough to resist? Will she be special enough to save herself?
Writing for young adults is tricky: we are supposed to have our characters grow and change so they can reach their goals, but at the same time we have avoid any whiff of teaching the reader a lesson, since teens have super sensitive BS meters. In Extraordinary, Nancy sidesteps this issue by actually focusing on the lesson, but in a way that integrates so well into the plot it doesn’t feel preachy.
The ‘moral of the story’ is that Phoebe must discover she is extraordinary just by being who she is. That’s important for all teens to realize (adults too!), but it can seem like something cheesy your grandma tells you while pinching your cheeks. Instead of trying to disguise this wisdom under layers of story, Nancy makes it the actual plot – I mean, even the title itself basically lays it out there for you. But because Nancy creates a flawed character we can sympathize with, even while yelling at her in frustration, Phoebe’s journey feels natural rather than forced to teach us a lesson.
There is a scene were Phoebe explains to Ryland that because parents lavish their babies with love just because they are cute and little, even though all babies are cute and little, this convinces them of their own specialness, so even when life tries to teach them that they aren’t extraordinary, they can never completely believe it. She says, “It’s probably why the human race survives.” This really hit home with me: even many years removed from my teen insecurities, I can feel plain and ordinary. And attempting to get published really intensifies those feelings – there are so many talented writers out there that I constantly question whether my writing is special enough to stand out. But reading that scene made me realize that even if the world never thinks I’m special for my writing, my family and friends love reading my stories, and that’s something to be proud of and cherish.
So in my first session of learning something about writing from the books I read, the writing itself ends up not be the biggest lesson for me. In admiring how daringly Nancy weaves the moral into her plot, I actually take the lesson to heart and believe that my writing can be extraordinary.
If you’ve read Extraordinary, what did you think? Have you read any books recently that gave you a boost you didn’t even know you needed?