Nancy Werlin’s Extraordinary

I don’t usually do reviews in my blog–I do enough of those elsewhere. But this brings up an interesting issue for me. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to give this post a pass.

Nancy Werlin blends history with fantasy in her novel about Phoebe Rothschild–of the Jewish banking Rothschild family–who we know from the beginning has been targeted by the faeries. They send her a new best friend, Mallory, but several years later they also send Mallory’s brother Ryland to seduce Phoebe into sacrificing herself.

The novel suffers from some structural problems, such as not meeting a central character until very late in the book, so I rated it 4 stars on Goodread, and in some ways it feels like a couple of very different books, albeit both very good books, linked together. The last third best matches the gorgeous cover, so if that’s what you’re looking for, hang in there and you will get to it.

The heart of the book for me, though, lies in the disturbing middle section. The whole thing is written by Nancy Werlin, so it’s all richly imagined and beautifully expressed. But that middle part…wow.  In it, Werlin shows, scene by scene, how even a young woman from a great family can be pulled into keeping secrets and even lying to those with whom she is closest. She can be manipulated, step by creepy step, into losing sight of herself and her own perspective until she is so wracked by self-doubt that her identity begins to be destroyed.

So I’m reading along and being blown away by this, and an uncomfortable realization begins to creep in.   I so much want to hand this book to teenage girls and say, “Read this! It will open your eyes! If you somehow get tangled up with an abuser, this is what it will sound like and look like.”  I wished that I could review it somewhere, and then I realized that even after some 15+ years of reviewing, I could still lose my objectivity if the theme was one that resonated for me particularly strongly.

Fortunately, in the case with this book it doesn’t matter, because it IS an excellent book. And unlike some other excellent books like Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I can never bring myself to give to kids because it is so bleak and depressing, this is one where I’m dying to put it into their hands. But it’s pretty unsettling to realize that remaining objective is still hard for me!

In any case, may the lushly romantic cover lure teenage girls into reading a book that may help them be on alert for the guy who is manipulating them into a dangerous situation. We have seen Werlin’s gift for exploring the effect of abusers on teens and her remarkable ability to reveal a character’s psychology before in The Rules of Survival, but here it is packaged with faeries and loveliness.

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2 Responses to Nancy Werlin’s Extraordinary

  1. Melissa Henderson says:

    I’m not sure if I see the conflict. Isn’t the message an integral part of the book as a whole? Your review would be problematic if you were disingenuous about the quality of the book in order to get the message out there. But if you — in your professional capacity as a youth services librarian — think this a message some kids should hear / don’t hear often enough, why not feature the book? I admit I might be missing the slippery moral slope and welcome enlightenment .

    • sdlempke says:

      I think you’re right, Melissa, and I didn’t express this well, or I didn’t choose the right book to express it.

      Your review would be problematic if you were disingenuous about the quality of the book in order to get the message out there.

      That’s it exactly–what struck me as I was reading is realizing that I love the messages Nancy Werlin gets across so much that I *would* have been willing to write a review that was more positive than it should have been. Of course, if it were a Horn Book review the editors would never have stood for it anyway. But in any case, it muddies the issue completely to use a book that IS very well written, because on this particular book, there is no dilemma. It just made me realize how vulnerable I might still be to losing perspective sometimes.

      I think I’ll have to tweak the post to make it clearer–thanks!

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