30 August 2010

Extraordinary; Nancy Werdlin

ExtraordinaryExtraordinary by Nancy Werlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Definitely not an "ordinary" book, but not quite "extra-ordinary" either - this falls somewhere solidly in the middle. What starts out being a tale about Something's Wrong in Faerie evolves into some interesting questions about self-image and family.

Phoebe's feelings of self-worth are caught up in her being a Rothschild (it's never explained why she has her mother's name, not her father's, particularly when her parents are married); she's become friends with some of the Mean Girls in school but is starting to question this after a summer in Nantucket. The current object of the Mean Girls' "affection" is Mallory, a new girl who has more than questionable fashion taste; Phoebe, thinking for herself for a change, chooses to leave her former friends in favor of taking care of Mallory (and ultimately Mallory's clearly unstable mother).

Intercut with this are a series of interviews with the Fairy Queen, in which it becomes clear that Mallory's "mom" is unstable because of something Mallory - who is not human but some agent of the Queen's, on some mission that involves forcing Phoebe to do something. Through these interviews we learn that this something will greatly affect Faerie, and is somehow tied into the patriarch of the Rothschild family.

Flashing forward a few years, we see Mallory failing in her mission yet being Phoebe's best friend. The Queen decides to send Ryland, Mallory's brother, to complete the mission. It's at this point that the questions of self-worth become interesting.

Essentially, Phoebe's self-confidence is being undermined both subtly and overtly by the siblings. Her confusion and shock is very real, and will resonate with any reader who has also wondered whether it is possible to live up to powerful, prominent parents. The passage where she says that her parent's unconditional, unearned love when she was born makes her special - no matter what happens later in life - is particularly moving. It's also great that she doesn't feel that she must be beyond ordinary, that ordinary is perfectly ok.

This is exactly what the Faerie Queen is waiting for, and the shift from this coming-to-grips with your intrinsic value and worth to a discussion/decision about genocide is a bit jarring. A lot is made about Phoebe's Jewish roots and her identification with the cultural aspects (deep religious feeling is not indicated). This book would have been equally effective had Phoebe not been a Rothschild and not Jewish but simply a girl who understands that she (and she alone) can save an entire race.

Of course, things don't end unhappily, and Phoebe and Mallory end on a good note; Mallory has learned to care for her "mother" and feels bad about her manipulation of Phoebe, while Phoebe forgives Mallory (at least, that's what it appears happens) and has the confidence to deal with a changed relationship with Benjamin, her Nantucket friend.

One wonderful thing about this book - it's not part of a series! YAY!! (that's not to say I don't want to read more from the author, but I'm so tired of stories being stretched out to accommodate this idea that what we readers really want are series and trilogies and not well-written one-offs).

ARC provided by publisher.

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