Extraordinary – Nancy Werlin

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I have to say that I went into this book with high hopes.   I have read a few of Werlin’s books, and her other Fae installment, Impossible, was pretty amazing.  So I was disappointed when the beginning of this book fell pretty flat.

Centered around Phoebe Rothschild, the book opens when Phoebe is just starting seventh grade.  She and her friends mock the new girl in school, Mallory.  But something inside Phoebe wants to help Mallory, and so Phoebe befriends Mallory.  Soon the two become as close as sisters.  Phoebe’s own family is wealthy and influential, and when she discovers Mallory’s mother is mentally unstable, they do all they can to help Phoebe’s new friend.  The novel fast-forwards four years, to when the girls are juniors in high school.  Mallory confesses to Phoebe that she has a brother that she never mentioned, and when Ryland arrives, he captivates Phoebe.  With a strange hold over his sister’s friend, Ryland begins to manipulate Phoebe into believing less of herself until it is too late.

I’m not spoiling anything in the story to tell you that Mallory and Ryland are fae.  We don’t learn what they want with Phoebe exactly until later on in the novel, but we know that they must force Phoebe to do or say something.  We know this from the beginning because Werlin intersperses conversations with the faerie queen between the main events of the novel.  It keeps the reader too informed.  As someone who wants to write, I know the struggles you face when shaping a story.  What to tell and when can tip the balance for or against you, and here, over-sharing is definitely a detriment.  Though the novel is told in 3rd person, Phoebe is our main narrator, as we see the story mostly through her eyes.  Thus, these conversations where she is not present takes you out of her story and out of her anxiety.  We know from the beginning that Mallory is not who she says she is, and so there is no mystery to her motivations, not really.  We may not understand the whole thing, but we know too much to exist alongside our MC (main character).  It’s jarring, and it cuts out the suspense that could have been there.

The other major problem I had with this book was the voice.  It is a struggle for an author to write a character from a young to slightly older age difference, but it is important that you are capable if you are going to attempt it.  We assume Phoebe is around 13-14 when the novel opens, and yet, her voice is far too adult.  She wants to protect Mallory and act like a mother to the girl.  While Mallory seems scared and timid, Phoebe feels almost too sure of herself in some ways, too settled on what she will do.  Maybe Werlin was trying to show Phoebe’s wealth and privilege through her voice, but all it did was make me almost shut the book.  (This is why writers like Carol are so wonderful to find – the narration is extremely important to keep you in the story and reading.)  I honestly only kept reading because of the plot – at the beginning of the book I did not care for the characters at all.

I was trying to find something nice to say about the book when I was reading, and I thought that the MC having asthma was pretty cool.  Not cool for her, but cool for an inhaler-owner like myself.  It was also a fairly accurate portrayal, so it gave me something to relate to.

When we flash forward (finally), the story does get better.  The voice fits an 18 year-old Phoebe far better than it did previously.  My gripe here though was that Phoebe was supposed to be a junior in high school, at 18.  Did she flunk a grade?  Start kindergarten late?  It did not make sense to have her that age, other than to keep her away from college worries and old enough to date the supposedly 24 year-old brother Ryland when he comes along.  Ryland, by the way, is the exact picture of an emotionally abusive boyfriend.  Just enough affection to keep the girlfriend, but enough criticism to work her down so that she becomes dependent upon him.  I am glad that Phoebe realizes her revulsion of him later, but watching her date him was all kinds of awful.

The interesting thing is that Mallory becomes our focus.  She is the absorbing character, the one we start to feel for, and the one that we want to understand.  When Phoebe finally reclaims her own story, I am not sure if it was all by design or not.  I honestly don’t think so.  Mallory was simply the more interesting character, and so Werlin led us to her and neglected the MC’s personality for awhile.  Since the whole point of the story is supposed to be Phoebe wondering about ordinary versus extraordinary, and what her own worth is, the unintentional device sort of works.  Except that it feels flawed.

The crazy mother wasn’t well-written, but there was some reason for that.  We know from the beginning that Mallory and the fae are suppressing her, keeping her calm so that she will cover for Mallory but not question her dead daughter’s reappearance.  But the picture we are given is never real or deep – it’s a very shallow version that made me wonder why Werlin bothered with the mother at all.  I know that Werlin can do better, because Impossible has a very well-written crazy mom.

I know that it sounds like I did not like this book.  I actually did, to some extent.  It was a fun read if you are not reading it critically, and it raises some very interesting ideas about love and how our self-worth can be instilled in us from birth.  However, with Werlin’s previous book being so good, this one just fell flat for me.  The plot was interesting, and I did read it quickly once we had flashed forward, but that was more about finding out why then anything else.

And here, because I am going to try it out, we implement the rating system:

Rating: 6.5/10

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