Friday, September 10, 2010


Werlin, Nancy. Extraordinary. New York: Dial Books - PenguinGroup, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Seventh grade is a chance for Phoebe Rothschild to make a new start for herself. Yes, she's one of those Rothschilds. They're all wealthy, powerful, and leading almost charmed lives. There is nothing Phoebe can do to get away from her prestigious name, but she can make sure that her privilege doesn't make her a horrible person. As a huge step in this direction, Phoebe ditches her Mean Girl crowd in order to befriend new girl Mallory. Mallory, who shows up to school in a faerie costume. A see-through faerie costume. While not wearing underwear. Phoebe is going to help Mallory survive middle school and use the power that comes with her famous last name to provide aid for Mallory and her mentally unstable mother. Mallory is touched by Phoebe's kindness, but she's still hesitant. One should never develop feelings for one's mark. Especially since Mallory is not only trying to con Phoebe, she's trying to break her.

Yes, this is another faerie book. But instead of a human protagonist being plagues by faeries or sucked into their world, most of this book is story about two girls who are the best kind of best friends. They share everything, build each other up, and act like sisters from a fairytale rather than like siblings in real life. Phoebe is a Rothschild as in the actual real-life Rothschilds (the author's note explains the significance of the real Rothschilds and that Extraordinary is only based on a real family not real people). Phoebe is loaded and Mallory has almost nothing, but that never seems to come in the way of their friendship, even though Phoebe's mom is paying for Mallory's mom to have around the clock care. There is never that you-owe-me sentiment that can sometimes creep into those kinds of relationships. Everything is perfect. Except...

This story is broken up by numbered conversations with the Faerie Queen. It seems Phoebe is very important. She is needed desperately by an ailing Faerie Court and it is Mallory's job to prepare Phoebe for whatever it is that she must do. Though we see most of the story (everything but these Faerie Queen convos) from Phoebe's point of view, it is Mallory's conflicting loyalties that are the real meat of this story. She loves Phoebe in that intense way that teenage girls have, where your best friend is your whole world, but she knows that if she doesn't do what she's been sent into the human world to do, the Faerie Queen and her Court will fade away, along with Mallory and all of her people. Mallory struggles with this for years, putting off her choice between her family and her best friend. In the mean time, she hides her assignment and helps Phoebe come into her own, not as a Rothschild, but as Phoebe. But that's not what Mallory was sent to do. Seeing Mallory's struggle, the Faerie Queen sends in the one person who can break up Mallory and Phoebe's all encompassing girl world: a smokin' hot guy who just happens to be Mallory's older brother.

With the addition of Ryland, Phoebe has her own conflicting loyalties to contend with. She's drawn to him inexplicably, but she knows it would hurt Mallory SO MUCH to find out that she's in love with him. Let me take a moment to say that this never strayed into the paranormal romance trope of intense, surprising (only to the character), and irrational tru lurv at first sight. Ryland is an ass. He really is a horrible guy. But he's a faerie, and a pretty powerful one at that. He glamours Phoebe. So even though smart, funny, confident Phoebe knows that she shouldn't date a guy who treats her like a child, constantly tells her she could stand to lose a few pounds, and whose whims make him either enchanting or incredibly hurtful, she can't seem to stop seeking him out. When he's not there, she knows he's bad for her; when she sees him, no matter what comes out of his mouth and how much it wounds her, she's convinced that she can't survive without him. You can almost see the magic that Ryland is throwing at Phoebe drown out her rational self, a self that used to be supported by Mallory. Except that Mallory can't seem to forgive Phoebe for dating her brother. And no matter how cruel Ryland is to her, it is Mallory's abandonment that breaks Phoebe's heart.

In the end, this is a story about an amazing friendship that is so convincing and alive. Werlin's portrayal of both girls and their relationship is what makes this story great; the faeries are simply a fascinating and (amazingly) original plot device to show how far each girl is willing to go for the other. Phoebe and Mallory have the kind of friendship where you say I love you and mean it; the kind that you would sacrifice anything for. And in the end, one of them has to.

A note about the cover and internal illustrations:
Oh.My.Gosh. I hope they keep them. The cover of the ARC is a-maz-ing. It doesn't look like much in the above picture, but on the actual ARC it looks like it's over-dyed or super-saturated or something (why will my graphic designer sister not answer the phone when I need real words for things like this?). The colors are totally and unnaturally bright and deep. On amazon it looks like they've toned it down a bit, but I'm hoping that's just amazon doing some over zealous color correction or something. The unnatural beauty of the grass, the dress, the shoes(!), everything is so important to the story in ways that I cannot tell you for fear of spoiling. Just suffice it to say that if the grass on the published copy looks like something you could grow in your own yard, do yourself a favor and imagine that it's actually the color of really good astro-turf, but still alive! As for the internal illustrations, they're great too and really help to off-set the conversations with the Faerie Queen.

Book source: ARC provided by publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program


Charlotte said...

I'm glad to hear you liked this--it was on my list already, but now is even more so!

Heather H. said...

Wow, this book sounds amazing! I love it when fantasies focus on friendship, and anything with faeries is always fun, so I absolutely can't wait to get my hands on this. :)

Lawral the Librarian said...

Charlotte - This is definitely one of my top books of the year! It's also my first book by Werlin. I'm running around trying to get my hands on more of them now.

Heather H. - I wish more fantasies focused on friendship! Friendships are such an important part of being a teen, at least as important as first love/crush/lust/whatevs if not more so, but YA books of all stripes seem to focus on the latter. Do you have any other great fantasy friendship books to recommend? I'd be very interested!

Alison said...

Wow...this sounds incredible. I've drooled over the cover for awhile but now I realize that it's so much more. Thanks for the review!
Alison Can Read

Heather H. said...

Lawral, if you want more friendship fantasies, then I highly recommend pretty much everything by Lynne Ewing, particularly her DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON series. Although the main girls battle supernatural baddies and have romances, at the end of the day, this series is about them and their connection with each other.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes' two-part series TATTOO and FATE are also friendship-heavy fantasies. The first book involves Bailey and her three best friends getting temporary tattoos that somehow imbue them with magical powers to save the world.

I also really love L.J. Smith's THE FORBIDDEN GAME, since we get to see a group of friends who have more of a casual bond end up closer because of all the badness the Obligatory Hot Supernatural Guy puts them through.

There's probably some more I'm forgetting, but hopefully you'll end up enjoying the recs I did think up if you ever have a chance to read them. :)

Lawral the Librarian said...

Alison - I'm a cover gal myself. I was so happy that the book lived up to my drooling over the cover!

Heather H. - Thanks for the recommendations! I'll definitely check some of these out!