Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

Tags: YA, magical realism, fairies


Phoebe Rothschild, the latest descendent of a powerful Jewish family, befriends Mallory, the strange new girl, in seventh grade. For years the two girls are inseparable, but Mallory is hiding a terrible secret from Phoebe. As Mallory plays with Phoebe’s emotions, Phoebe struggles with her own self-worth, already flimsy due to her beautiful best friend and the accomplishments of her family. Then Ryland, Mallory’s older brother, enters the picture. Phoebe finds herself almost irresistibly attracted to him, and it seems as if he reciprocates her feelings, but why is Ryland really here? Unable to trust the people closest to her and manipulated by powers beyond her comprehension, Phoebe must learn for herself what it truly means to be an extraordinary person.


With its beautiful cover, I really wanted to like EXTRAORDINARY. But it didn’t turn out as I had hoped. Choppy writing and distance from the characters marred my reading experience of EXTRAORDINARY.

If Nancy Werlin was going for a fairy tale-like narrative style, then she succeeds. The narration feels distant from the characters: oftentimes, the characters’ thoughts and peculiarities are told rather than shown us. Fine for a fairy tale (have you ever read the Grimm brothers’ works?), but I couldn’t be sure if that was what the author intended. It is a book featuring fairies, but whether the narration was supposed to match the ethereal quality of its fantasy aspect, or it was simply clunky and emotionally ineffectual writing, I couldn’t tell.

There was definitely a forced quality to both the writing and the story. I understand that Mallory and Ryland manipulate Phoebe—but I remained unconvinced that Phoebe was so easily convinced by their machinations. Phoebe falling in love with Ryland, who is so vague in the performance of his supposed attentions toward her? I didn’t necessarily have to like Ryland—I don’t think that’s the intent—but I at least had to believe that Phoebe would really like him. Which I didn’t.

EXTRAORDINARY was an interesting attempt to meld together the formalities of fairie court life with the concerns of contemporary human beings. However, it was missing the connection between story and reader that I desire in the books I read. As a result, this is a hard one for me to recommend.

Similar Authors
Cyn Balog

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - So pretty. That color green is just so vibrant.

Penguin / Sept. 7, 2010 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $17.99

ARC received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program.


  1. I had a lot of the same problems with it that you did. The distance between the reader and the characters was the thing that bothered me most.

    However, I just wanted to add my own thoughts about the relationship that develops between Ryland and Phoebe--I think what Werlin intended was for Phoebe to fall for Ryland as a result of his mystical fairy powers. She was drawn to him through magic and not through a genuine liking.

    The problem, of course, is that this wasn't explained well at all, and since the reader is left in the dark, the entire concept doesn't work. Maybe I'm way off base, but that's how I read it.

  2. I bought this book a few weeks ago & have read some poor reviews about it. I haven't been too excited to pick it up! Maybe when I have an off week? Thank you for the honest review.

  3. Thanks for your honest review, Steph! I think the beautiful cover is blinding a lot of people. I still kind of want to read this, but I think I'll wait and get it from the library rather than buying.

  4. The cover is so pretty, I agree! I haven't read this one, but I think I'd have trouble with it based on this review. If you're unsure whether or not the author is doing something based upon intent, it doesn't really matter whether or not they are anymore -- that kind of uncertainty just means that something's lacking in the writing. In some way, it doesn't pull it off. Just imo, though.

    I'm trying to read more fantasy/paranormal, though, so I might give this one a try. Borrowed from the library like Becca C above!

  5. I really liked The Killer's Cousin which was an older work of Nancy Werlin's and I was thinking of reading this one too but I've been hearing to many negative reviews about it. I think I'm going to skip this one. Great Review!

  6. I wasn't feeling this one, either -- and for all the reasons you mentioned. Though I didn't feel like I was supposed to like Ryland, you're right: I needed to feel like Phoebe did! And there was so little to like about him. The whole plot just felt . . . off.


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