“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Extraordinary • YA fiction

Coming September 7th! Dial / Penguin Ages 12 and up
What does it mean to be extraordinary?  Find out in National Book Award Finalist Nancy Werlin's new book.
 Story: Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school. Soon the two girls are 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?
In the vein of Nancy Werlin’s previous novel Impossible (featured here at the Picnic Basket), Extraordinary is a tale of friendship, romance, and the faerie realm.
Story behind the story:  Author Nancy Werlin shares the behind-the-scenes of how Extraordinary came to be:  "So, there I was, watching  the musical Wicked, and we’d gotten to the final scene where the two witches sing their goodbye duet to each: 

Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

By the time they got to “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good,” I was in tears. In my life, I too have experienced that hugely important friendship, and so I knew that I was witnessing that aim of all art: emotional truth.

But I left the theater also wondering why it was that so few books talk about women’s relationships and friendships in this way, acknowledging their developmental and emotional importance. I thought of how many books that are ostensibly for girls and women are really about their relationships with boys and men, and can’t even pass the Bechtel Test:

1.  It has to have at least two women in it
2.  Who talk to each other
3.  About something besides a man.

And I knew I wanted to try to write a book about an enormously important friendship between two girls, a friendship that would test them both to the very limits of themselves, and that would force them to grow, not just into maturity, but into a better version of themselves than they could ever have imagined, or achieved, on their own."  All I can say is, WOW!

Nancy's been good enough to supply us with additional resources such as:
- a video of a rehearsal of “For Good,” from a PBS documentary about Wicked, with Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth.  Take a peek here:
- a link to more information about The Bechtel Test

- a reader's guide to EXTRAORDINARY 
- and a fascinating article on the behind-the-scenes of how book covers are designed.

A Top Ten IndieNext Pick, Autumn, 2010

·    "Medieval Jewish history, ethical questions, faeries, modern romance. Whew! In the hands of a less-talented author, this would be a hot mess. Happily, Werlin crafts her characters so deftly and unrolls the story so cleverly that readers will be under the spell till the end.” – Ilene Cooper, Booklist

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Mrs. Horne said...

The cover is beautiful, can't wait to dive into this one!

Barbara said...

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

I also found the cover striking, but not at all related to my image of Phoebe or of the faerie world she stumbles into. I did like the way faeries were portrayed as complex, rather than cute, individuals.
I also liked the technique of interspersing chapters of direct conversation with the faerie queen. This way, the storyline and Mallory's "mission" was gradually unfolded to the reader.

Both the teen and mother/daughter friendships and responsibilities were well crafted.
Initially, the Jewish/Rothschild history was an intriguing addition, but I felt it became too heavy. The references to the faerie folk resembling concentration camp victims and the need to save a race threatened to take over the plotline. Also, the Fay-fey-Fayne word play was a bit drawn out.

I enjoyed the way most characters were developed, but questioned some of the details. Was it really necessary that we were told (often) that Catherine was much older than her husband? Could Benjamin really grow from a younger, nerdy childhood pal to a self assured, I-love-you kind of guy in the space of one day?

Near the end (chapter 37 or so), the tension picked up, but I was distracted with how many times the actual word "extraordinary" was spoken by the characters.

I think this book will have a girl readership, grade 8 and above. The references to sex were not graphic, but maybe too much for a younger audience.

Perhaps my students will be less critical? Rating: 3.

dmuldawer said...

Werlin does it again! Extraordinary is another wonderful book that's sure to appeal greatly to middle and high school girls.

From the very beginning, the reader is aware that Phoebe Rothschild is important and that she must be prepared for something, but this remains a mystery save for a few teasing hints in the realm of the fairies.

I agree with the previous poster (Barbara) that the whole concentration camp image is a bit overdone, as are the constant references to Phoebe's faith. And yes, the word extraordinary could be used less but it is the whole point of the book.

There were several spellbinding character developments in Extraordinary and the most intriguing is Ryland's careful seduction and emotional destruction of Phoebe. Mallory too is fascinating as she tries to balance the demands of her fairy and human worlds.

The ending was intensely satisfying. Mothers sacrifice for their children and the fairy queen makes the ultimate sacrifice for hers. She does not insist on a useless ritual; she does not kill for killing's sake. The fairies are no cut and dried villains, but complex characters who do what they must do to survive.

Definitely get a copy (or two or three) of Extraordinary for your library. It's a wonderful read which probes into deeper concepts such as sacrifice, love, friendship, trust, and survival.

Picnic Basket Rating: 4.5

Angela said...

Wow, Nancy Werlin has done it again. As much as I loved her work in Impossible I equally am impressed by Extraordinary. I took two important messages from the book: One being in relation to the title, that "there is no such thing as simply ordinary." This idea resonated with me personally as I have definitely gone through times when I felt ordinary and then times when I realized, of course, that I am not. I connected with Phoebe's personal journey relating to this point. This message rang loud and clear. The second lesson was about people and how one can have an effect on another; about choices and their consequences, big and small. The one thing leads to another-ness of life never ceases to amaze.

Just as in Impossible, one thing I loved about this book was the marriage between fantasy and reality. The faerie world tied with such a realistic teenage world with completely relatable problems worked so well. I can imagine that many teenage girls could find themselves in relationships with someone like Ryland or social predicaments like Phoebe as she tried to escape from her superficial friends in the beginning. Strength can be gained from reading of someone else's similar experiences and triumphs.

The plot of this book was so well crafted. I enjoyed knowing a bit more than Phoebe, but not as much as Ryland and Mallory. The pacing in which the mystery was unraveled was just right to make me keep reading and finish this book in only a couple of sittings.

Werlin's writing style includes so many fresh and original phrases and ideas. I loved, for instance, this one: "Then, and at last, he smiled, but the expression didn't reach his eyes" (p. 167), and also when Phoebe talks about babies learning to feel extraordinary through the love of their parents she says, "And that conviction gets, sort of, baked permanently into it's feelings" (p. 249). "Baked permanently." I like it.

I enjoyed learning that the Rothschild family did exist and being pointed towards the resources to learn more. I love when authors tell us about their inspirations; such a nice lesson for students.

I raced to finish this book and now I'm sad that it's over. 5 out of 5, no doubt.

Amanda said...

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin is a book to be savored and shared. Phoebe has had every luxury life has to offer. Her family has carried an unmatched prestigious power across centuries. Everyone in her family line is and has been extraordinary while she’s just extra ordinary.
The year she decides to befriend the new awkward student, Mallory, begins a journey of friendship and love and romance and betrayal. Teen readers will enjoy the merging of the faerie world into the human realm. They will also hear their own personal secrets echoed in Phoebe's self-doubt and insecurity.
Werlin, like the fey, has a magical quality that entices the reader into Phoebe’s life and her inward battles that have outward life and death consequences. Readers will discover their own strengths as the characters develop in this twisting tale. Who do you trust when everything is falling apart? What is your life worth? Werlin’s newest novel will whisper to as well as calm the storms of our souls, “Yes, you are special. Yes, you are indeed extraordinary.”
This novel can serve as a springboard into non-fiction reading about the Rothschild family and their political and financial successes throughout history’s toughest times. Another tie-in option would be the long debate over nature vs nurture in parenting.
Recommended for all high school libraries...it'll be passed from friend to friend. Rating: 4

Amanda McDonald, Librarian
Durant High School
Durant, Oklahoma

loonyhiker said...

I would give this book 5 out of 5. This book is appropriate for a young adult and I really think they would enjoy it. This book deals with peer pressure, loyalty, mother-daughter relationships, honesty, romantic relationships, and friendship. I was so caught up in the story that I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted to know more about the situation and it made me very curious. I like the way the main character was developed and feel that she could have been me. I like the whole idea about what is ordinary and what is not. Too many young people feel that they are ordinary and this may help them see that everyone is extraordinary in their own way. I also liked the mixture of fantasy and real life throughout the book. I would recommend using this in a high school library.

Pat Hensley
University Instructor
Greenville SC

Tiffany said...

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin contained just the right amount of fantasy elements to be a pleasant, thoughtful read. The book features wonderful realism in that Phoebe's self-doubt and destructive relationship with Ryland are very relatable. The plot was well-paced and didn't drag under the weight of world building. The characters were believeable and unique, although Benjamin's character seems to only fill the need of Phoebe needing a non-fairy influence on her life. Mallory's position in all of this is complex, difficult and her struggle is as powerful as Phoebe's. Overall, this book was engaging and fast-paced. Public and high school libraries will definitely want to add this to their collections. This was a wonderful 4 out of 5.

Tiffany Erickson
Youth Service Librarian

Danielle said...

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin was a pleasant read. The characters were well developed and the plot was interesting. However, I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book, though it did pick up towards the end. (For some reason I kept comparing it to Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr though the two don’t have much in common besides the use of fairies and that book is intended for a slightly older audience. I think that Marr’s book did a better job of providing the readers with background to understand the world the author had created and I felt more connected to her characters.) But I do think that middle schoolers will enjoy this book—especially those who like books that focus on friendships and that contain lite fantasy. They will be able to relate to many of the self-doubts and feelings that Phoebe has. It could also be used to help generate discussions about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships (both friendships and the romantic kind). Phoebe’s relationship with Ryland especially contained many signs of a toxic relationship.
I give this book a rating of 3 ½ out of 5.

linda said...

Don't judge a book by its cover? Did you have that feeling when you touched a book, it would touch you? This book was exactly what the title was...Extraordinary. The author did a superb job interspersing reality with magic/faerie. At first, I wasn't sure if an adolescent young lady would want to read the book, thinking that they would prefer realistic fiction. But then, I thought about the Twilight craze...Yes, they would love this book.

I agree with the previous posts. It is a bit too heavy with the concentration camp dialogue.

As I read the book, I felt as if I was in the story...observing it from the sidelines. "
and dozens of shadows that a moment before Mayer had assumed to be trees came alive. They gathered silently into a perfect circle around a female...the yellow of a bee's fur; the russet of a fox's pelt; the white of a dandelion gone to see; the shiny black of a songbird's eye." What an example of bringing the setting right to the reader. What an example of poetry!

I would definitely give it a 5. Extraordinarily yummy!!

Amanda said...

Well, as I've seen so many wonderful reviews of Extraordinary, both via The Picnic Basket and other blogs, I'm starting to wonder if something is wrong with me! Though I loved Impossible, Werlin's first book, I was not a fan of this one at all.

The whole "faery world" chapters between Mallory and the faery queen were so awkward and forced. At first, I thought it was on purpose, maybe it was supposed to come across that way, but as the book went on, I ended up feeling just as awkward with the reading as I did in the beginning.

I did really like the artistic touch throughout the book, with the flowers in the corners of each new chapter page and the writing in terms of Phoebe's intense pull towards Mallory was very well done. That being said, the rest of the characterization felt forced and not believable.

The historical aspects, in terms of the family, was also strange in this plot. It felt rather unnecessary and drawn out to me.

The actual story line was entertaining enough and I can see teens gravitating towards something paranormal such as this, so I'm giving it a rating of a 3, rather than a 2. It's written for teens and if they like it, it's a successful novel...I just really didn't care for it myself.

3 out of 5

Amanda Snow
A Patchwork of Books

Kimberli Carrier said...

I found this book to be not only entertaining, but thought provoking. I think the way it portrays the faeries in relation to concentration camp victims is an excellent way to help the reader understand how Phoebe could even consider dying for them. I love the way the story develops and feels. It is easy to see how young girls would be able to relate to the themes in this book. From peer pressure to insecurities to friends who say things to hurt you deeply. It will also help teen readers reevaluate how they let others treat them. I think this is the type of book that will empower some young women to get out of hurtful relationships and stand up for themselves.

I love the relationship between Phoebe and Mallory and the way Werlin was not afraid to let these characters express their love for each other. The fact that Mallory learns and even experiences the human emotions of friendship, loyalty, love, etc. makes this book extraordinary. It leaves us with the message that when we have someone who believe in us, just for who we are, it can change us for the better no matter what the circumstances are.

I felt that the relationship between Catherine and Phoebe was wonderfully written. Instead of being the brooding teen who doesn't care how her mom feels, she steps back before hurting her mom. She thinks about how much her mom means to her and maintains the trust and love in the relationship rather than carelessly tossing it aside for a guy. Even though she is under his "spell" she is strong enough to do the right thing.

I thought this was a fabulous book and would use it for a teen book club. It certainly has many lessons to explore and would definitely capture the attention of the teen readers. There is so much to love about this book.

I give it 5 out of 5.

Megan B. said...

When I stopped trying to compare Extraordinary to Impossible, the fun began. I loved this book for what it was on its own. It's interesting and though-provoking at the same time. I love the depth of both Phoebe's and Mallory's characters. Yes, the readership will mostly be female, but I think this is just what young girls need- books with strong female protagonists.

Rating: 5

Anonymous said...

I know that this is a book that once the girls get a hold of it will not stay on my shelf.
I thought the story was one that my readers could relate to. I also liked how Nancy Werlin portrayed both worlds. the faeries were very complex. It kept you reading to find out what Mallory's mission was, and how she had made a connection with her mother.
I will also use Nancy Werlin's story about how she chose the cover for the book. I am sure that my students will have their opinions about that.

This book earns a 4 in my basket.

Julia Pitau said...

Let me start off by saying I am a fan of Nancy Werlin’s writing and the students attending our school enjoy her much more than I do. With that said, Extraordinary fell short for me. The storyline did not feel the least bit possible, even if I let my mind try. Yes, I understand it was about fairies, however, having characters jump in and out of the story to help it progress along did not work for me. The ending of the story wrapped up a little too neatly. I believe with some fine tuning, it could have made for a better story. I’ll be anxious to see what the high school students think about it.

Picnic Rating (for me): 2
Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

LizM said...

While I am normally a fan of Werlin, this novel fell short of my expectations AND that of my students'. Her writing is full of descriptive and beautiful imagery (I especially loved the descriptions of the fairy transformations at the very end!) but the plot fell short.

Phoebe and Mallory's four-year friendship was destroyed too easily at the end; adolescent girls would argue that boys get in the way, but only temporarily, in a friendship like that. Most of my students were turned off because of that -- they felt that their own friendships could have withstood the "interruption" of a boy in the long run.

I give it a 3; my students gave it a 2.

8th grade teacher

Carol said...

Extraordinary, like Impossible, show cased Nancy Werlin's talents with language, visualization opportunities, and believable fantasy. The characters were strong and articulate. They made sense and their actions were ones that the reader could believe and relate too. Phoebe had some of all of us, because she dealt with tangles around friendship, love, trust, confidence, and self reflection. I found myself telling her that she was not ordinary and she already knew that! The conversations and scene changes with the faeries were fantastic. They never made me feel like they didn't belong. I like the way there was never enough of a disclosure that you fully understood the purpose of Ryland and Mallory. You knew you would find out in the end and you bought into the fact that what was to be didn't matter as much as what was happening in the present. I am a big fan of Nancy now as 2 out of 2 have been 5 star rating.

K-8 Librarian

jmaningo said...

At first the cover didn't feel like the story, but skipping 4 years ahead worked. The friendship Mallory and Phoebe developed was so real, juxtaposed with Phoebe's love for Ryland. I just kept cheering for Phoebe to be strong, confident and proud of herself. And in the end LOVE wins. This is an easy sell for my 7/8th graders, deep friendship, romance and a fairy tale ending:)

PLLoggerR said...

Nancy Werlin's book, Extraordinary, did not feel extraordinary to me. Phoebe meets Malory as a seventh grader, befriending her because Malory was so out of place, and in need of a friend, as was Phoebe. Thier friendship grows until Malory's brother shows up.

I was fine with the story up to that point--it was rich with friendship (what makes them, why they happen) and the meaning of family. But with the addition of Malory's brother the story turned abusive, or at least that is what I read. Malory's brother becomes domineering, totally changing how Phoebe reacts to her friends and family. This does happen in some relationships and is very real, and something teenagers should be aware of and be strong enough to get away from, but will teens see that here, or will they swoon over the fairies and the dashing older man Phoebe seems to have fallen for? I'm sure this part of the book will bring about conversation, but it didn't make for an extraordinary book for me.

Picnic Basket rating - 3, as it did evoke an emotion from me, and because there are teens that will like it, but it certainly wasn't a hit with me.

Peacham Library

Mary Kirk said...

Friendship wins in Extraordinary. I liked the ending a lot. It was, however, a predictable end. The dialogue was not realistic. The main characters were too noble. The love interest was too evil. The lesser characters were one dimensional. For such a long book, Extraordinary should have had more depth.
Again, I did like the ending and the last fifty pages were engrossing. I ranked Extraordinary a 3.

M. Battista said...

As I read each chapter of this book I kept thinking that I was on the verge of something really good. The best part was just a few pages away. It was building and I was ready for it. Unfortunately I ended up feeling like I was chasing a carrot on a string. The promise wasn't fulfilled and I was left unsatisfied. I felt that the story could have been at least 50-75 pages shorter and that the characters did not sound believable. The fairies I can give a pass to, but not the humans. Their speech did not ring true for me. My teen daughter is enjoying it more than I did and since it was geared toward her age group and not mine I will give it a rating of 3.

Denair, CA

Heather Hill said...

I truly enjoyed "Extraordinary". Though it is not appropriate for K-5 students, I have become a fan of Nancy Werlin. The fantasy and reality were mixed just right so that the story did not become too unbelievable. The gradual unfolding of the fairies mission kept me reading.

Throughout the entire book, I did not consider the relationship between Mallory and the Queen. However, when we learned of the true relationship at the end, it made me want to go back and re-read the conversations to see what I could discern about their relationship.

I think that I will discover something else every time I revisit the story. Extraordinary is a 5 out of 5. Impossible is now on my list of books to read.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Lemon the Duck said...

I loved the vibrant colors of the cover. When I started the story I was confused because the cover in no way matched the text inside. The voice was young. But then I understood the wonderful marketing.
I could not imagine a YA audience reading this at first but the cover would draw the YA in at least for a peek.
Werlin's descriptive language is fresh and appealing. This is definately YA material that starts out with a middle grade feel. But the author's fairy/human world provides a backdrop for ordinary concepts to be revisited in an extraordinary way. I rate this book a 4 out 5.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School