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Author: Miriam Spitzer Franklin
Published By: Sky Pony Press (2015)
Synopsis: Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process. Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted. (Taken from Goodreads)
Extraordinary by Miriam Spitzer Franklin is truly an extraordinary book, and one of the best I’ve read in a while. While the book is targeted for middle grade readers, I enjoyed it thoroughly as a teenager and thought it was a beautifully written tale.
On the same note, there were a few issues I had with it—not enough to degrade my appreciation or my rating, but enough for me to want to at least mention in my review, so I’ll dive into that now and get it done with so I can move onto my positives.
First off, the characters, at first, appeared very stereotypical. To me, Pansy felt like a typical MG (Middle Grade) protagonist, and in the beginning it felt like I’d read the book already only because the stereotypicalness of the characters. Anna’s the typical best friend—she loves to have fun, is super outgoing, loves dragging her friend into crazy situations, and yet still goes out of her way to care for others. Middle grade has cliches as much as YA, and the main one is the Awesome (and Perfect) Best Friend Stereotype, which Anna fit almost perfectly. Her character was so typical it made it hard to truly understand her, only because I’ve read so many other books with best friends just like her. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’ll address this in a bit) and I understand the importance of why the author chose to have Anna that way, but to me, the girl who hates all forms of cliche, it lowered my love for the book just a bit. As well, some elements of the plot, like Pansy becoming the popular girl’s friend because the popular girl is actually really nice and it’s only her friends who are mean—or the typical drama with the boy friend who’s she not hanging out with as much, and whom she realizes she’s hurt, but he’s hurt her—are more things I’ve seen dotted over middle grade books EVERYWHERE.
However, like I said earlier, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are only so many personality types to go around. To make Anna a shy, quiet, artsy girl wouldn’t have worked in this storyline, and to make Andy and Pansy perfect friends, or Madison the bully and not have a friendship there, would’ve taken away a lot of the sub-plotline and a lot of the messages. Essentially, while it’s impossible to say the stereotype isn’t there, it WAS done in a way where it was needed for the story, and it was done well, to the author’s credit. It flowed naturally and didn’t read like a stereotype. As well, it slowly went away as the story went on—Pansy developed her own character and slowly escaped the stereotype I thought she was, becoming her own person with a unique personality. Andy showed more promise, and Madison, while still being a bit atypical, also became more likeable.
The main problem I had with this was the whole message towards the end that creeped in, saying, “There’s no such thing as miracles.” Granted, I understand that the author was trying to send the message of reality and how you can’t change reality, but I wish she wouldn’t have taken that stance. You don’t have to straight out say miracles don’t exist to portray a message that things are the way they are and that you have to accept that. It WAS only mentioned once or twice, so it was easy to overlook. I do understand why she did it, and this isn’t something I straight-out hated; I just wanted to note it because it’s not exactly something I loved, either.
Okay—done with that, we can move on to what I DID love.
The story and plot were amazing and so well done. The flashbacks are done skillfully, capturing Anna’s voice even though we haven’t actually met the real Anna. The story plays out so heartbreakingly in the way it is told, especially considering coming from a middle grade girl’s point of view. Pansy’s struggles are portrayed well, realistically without being too much for younger readers, while still being enough to make it a deeper story. I felt the author truly captured what it was like for Pansy, truly showed us what life was like from her eyes as she navigated the tricky landscape, trying to grasp the reality while still trying so hard to hope. It was beautifully painted.
Anna’s sickness was described well, not diving into any detailed medical information, but still providing enough to understand. The important thing in the story was that Anna had it, and how or why or what caused it was irrevelent to the story; from that standpoint I thought it was just fine that there was really no medical facts or information (besides, a girl Pansy’s age wouldn’t even know that sort of thing).
The writing was very good. Everything tied together well, there were no filler chapters or drawn-out scenes, and every scene and character contributed to the plot and with moving the story forward. The sub-plots, I felt, had just as strong positive messages, despite the stereotype-feel. It all came together wonderfully in the end, creating a truly beautiful story.
I loved the role her parents played in the plot, and I loved the way they were portrayed. They weren’t the typical parents you meet in everyday MG; instead, they were unique, and well-developed, proving to be great guides and companions for Pansy while still retaining the parental role. They weren’t cheesy or stiff, and were written in the way parents in MG novels should be written—as helpful and loving guides—instead of strict, mean tyrants or unaware, cheesy adults to avoid. Unfortunately, these two types are all too common in many MG novels and it was nice to see kind, realistic, and actually developed characters as parents in a book. Granted, there are many good MG novels with good parent figures—it’s just that far too many of them completely disregard, or misinterpret, the meaning of a parent’s role in a child’s life that it’s a real positive to me to see a book that doesn’t do that.
It was a short, sweet read, and despite the few stereotypes, it truly was a beautiful book, written well, and to the point. It dealt with a serious issue with enough lightness for it to not be a serious depresser—also light enough for young readers—while with still enough depth to make you think and to appeal to older readers. So despite my few negatives, it was outweighed by the positives and so I can wholeheartedly say I loved this book and would recommend it highly. A beautiful story about friendship and which will make you appreciate your friends more than before, this hidden gem of a novel captivated me from beginning to end.
Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
Recommended to: Ages 8+!