BKMT READING GUIDES



 
Difficult,
Slow,
Boring

1 review

Extraordinary
by Nancy Werlin

Published: 2010-09-07
Hardcover : 400 pages
3 members reading this now
0 club reading this now
0 members have read this book
Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe, but a dangerous hold, ...
No other editions available.
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to

Introduction

Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. 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 truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe's ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn't been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: A faerie world is about to die--and one ordinary girl can change its fate. When Phoebe meets Mallory Tolliver, she is irresistibly drawn to her, despite Mallory's odd ways. The two form a sister-like bond until Mallory's handsome brother, Ryland, appears during their junior year, and Phoebe finds herself intensely attracted to him. A dangerous romance begins, but Phoebe soon discovers that Mallory and Ryland are not who they seem. In Extraordinary, National Book Award finalist Nancy Werlin has crafted an enchanting novel of friendship and loyalties, where family history determines the fate of many and a generations-old pact requires a sacrifice of the greatest proportion. With underlying themes of self-discovery and allegiance, there is more to Extraordinary than first meets the eye.--Seira Wilson




Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Conversation with the Faerie Queen, 1
“You are ready for your mission, then, little one?”
“Yes. Except that I am somewhat—I am sorry, Your
Majesty. Yes, I am ready.”
“You are anxious. Naturally. It is a great deal of
responsibility. But remember, your way has been prepared.
The Tolliver woman will believe you to be her
own human daughter, miraculously restored to her.
Grief, depression, and loneliness have caused her to
lose herself, so she will gratefully accept your guidance
in all things, young though you are. Managing her
will be easy for you; you will give her certain human
medications to keep her under your infl uence, and you
will use her money for all your needs in the human
realm.”
“I understand. And the Rothschild girl?”
“The girl is of course your main focus. You will
observe her at school. I need not tell you again that
everything—everything—depends on her.”
“The stakes are high.”
“Frighteningly high, at this point. It is useless to
deny it.”
“Thank you for your trust and confi dence, Your
Majesty. I am humbled by it.”
“Rise to your feet, child. Bid farewell to the court
and, especially, to your older brother. He is proud of
you for having been chosen—and he is jealous too. Ah,
I see by the fl are in his eyes that I am correct. But you
shall show him and all our people that I have not made
an error in placing our trust in his little sister.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Perhaps I will be home again,
successful, in just a few human weeks.”
“Even if it takes longer, we will manage. We have
three or four years left, by human count.”
“I will succeed with the girl long, long before that!”
“Good. You were ever a ferocious sprout.”
chapter 1
Phoebe Gutle Rothschild met Mallory Tolliver in seventh
grade, during the second week of the new school year, in homeroom.
Phoebe had had one of her horrific asthma attacks and
couldn’t start school on time, but her so-called friend had kept
her in the loop about Mallory. She couldn’t wait to talk about
the peculiar new girl.
It was her clothing that marked Mallory out. “Every day,”
Colette Williams-White said to Phoebe, “she wears something
weirder than the day before. Yesterday, she had on this huge
old T-shirt, like she thought it was a dress. But she had it
on backward, with the tag sticking out at her throat. I mean,
who wouldn’t notice they’d done that? And, you know what? It
smelled. Or maybe that was her. Also, with it? High heels.”
“Is she maybe, you know . . .” Phoebe paused, delicately.
“Challenged?”
“She’s in regular classes, and—no. Just no.”
“Maybe she can’t afford decent clothes?”
Colette shook her head decisively. “The shoes were Christian
Louboutin, in this marigold color, with ankle straps. Flowers
on the toes, which—I know!—sounds like too much, but trust
me, it wasn’t.”
“Could she just be expressing—”
“Stop it, Phoebe, okay? Because, frankly? Not only are you
wrong, but it’s also really bitchy of you to keep arguing when
I’ve met her and you haven’t. Actually? It’s bitchy and prissy,
both.”
Phoebe shut up.
Colette continued. “Mallory Tolliver is not making her
own unique fashion statement. She just doesn’t care. It’s as
if she throws on the first thing she finds every morning, in,
like, somebody else’s closet.” Colette rolled her eyes. “And that
somebody else, who owns the closet? Hate to say it? They’re
really screwed up.”
Looking at the new girl now, Phoebe couldn’t help herself.
She exchanged a quick, incredulous glance with Colette, who
had been right. Then Phoebe’s gaze returned, compelled, to
Mallory Tolliver.
Mallory stood at the back of the room between the windows
and the last row of seats, in profile to Phoebe, looking outside
toward the cars passing in the street below. She was under medium height, with long straw-colored hair that was desperately
in need of a good conditioner, and she was plump, with a
curiously pale face. She would have seemed perfectly ordinary,
even forgettable, if not for her clothes. Today she was wearing
something that looked scarily like a Disney Princess costume.
Phoebe’s brow furrowed, because Mallory’s outfit got
stranger the longer you looked at it. It was in fact not what
Phoebe had thought at first glance; not a pretty, poufy, Disney
princess dress. The costume was flimsy and crude; it tied
in back with strings and had obviously been intended to be
worn on top of other, sturdier clothes. Possibly on Halloween.
At first it had looked similar to Belle’s fabulous tiered yellow
ball gown, but on closer examination, its color and shape were
off. Also, the dress had a small pair of wings hanging down
drearily in back. These feathery wings made it a fairy princess
costume. A generic, tacky, cheap fairy princess.
Princess Mallory Markdown.
Phoebe caught herself a split second before she said the
catty name out loud to Colette, who was gripping Phoebe’s
arm with one hand and had the heel of the other clapped to her
mouth, her eyes alive with characteristic sharp malice. If she
said the words to Colette, Phoebe knew, they would stick, and
the new girl was in bad enough trouble already. The other girls
were like a pack of circling wolves.
Phoebe was one of them. Or rather, she had been. However, after a long talk with her Nantucket friend, Benjamin
Michaud, a few weeks ago during summer vacation, she had
realized she didn’t want to be, not anymore.
Benjamin hardly ever offered a direct opinion and would
just listen and ask questions. And he was over a year younger
and, being from Nantucket, knew nothing of the kind of
big suburban middle school Phoebe went to, much less of the
politics of girls and friendship. But talking with her summer
friend had the ability to make Phoebe realize when she was
worried. As she had gone on and on to him about her girlfriends
at school, she had realized that she didn’t like them,
and—this was almost worse—that she didn’t like herself when
she was with them.
And if that made her prissy—if Colette was right about
that too—well, so be it.
The problem was that Phoebe wasn’t sure how to detach
herself safely from her so-called friends. It had even seemed
very possible that she would be a coward and do nothing,
because she didn’t want to be alone and friendless, and also,
she really did fear Colette’s sharp tongue and her power. But
as she looked at Mallory Tolliver in her awful costume, Phoebe
suddenly understood that she was indeed going to step out of
the pack. In fact, she was going to do it this very day. Somehow.
She had to.
It was as if a tight constriction around her chest began to
relax, and she caught a glimpse of the truth in a conversation she had overheard her parents having about her latest
asthma attack. They had said her asthma got worse when she
felt stressed or anxious.
Mallory had just shifted position, moving closer to the window.
“My God,” Colette said to Phoebe, in a voice pitched for
all to hear. “Look at the new girl now!”
Phoebe looked. Phoebe winced.
In the direct light from the window, Mallory’s dress had
become partially transparent. She wore nothing beneath
the cheap costume. Nothing at all. And, though she had not
changed position, her shoulders stiffened, and Phoebe knew
that of course she had heard Colette.
Phoebe scanned the room. Everybody was looking at Mallory,
and a couple of the boys had their mouths open. “My
God,” she muttered involuntarily to Colette. “Where’s her
mother?”
Colette snickered approvingly—and simultaneously, Mallory
Tolliver whipped around. But it was not to look at Colette.
Instead, Mallory met Phoebe’s gaze, Phoebe’s only, instantly
and directly. There was no mistaking the intelligence—and
disdain—and pride—in her eyes.
There was something else there too; a tiny, unmistakable
flicker of recognition.
Then, just as abruptly, Mallory turned away again. Her
spine was straight as a post.
Phoebe never knew exactly what it was about Mallory that called to her so strongly. That straight back? That quick,
proud look at Phoebe that held recognition? The intelligence
in her face? The fear that she sensed in her, that moved her to
sympathy?
I want to know that girl, she thought suddenly. I want to be
friends with her. Not Colette. Her.
Out of nowhere, a plan came to Phoebe. It came with
tidal-wave force and with the conviction and joy of a religious
conversion.
Phoebe reached up and peeled Colette’s hand off her arm.
She walked away from her and up to the new girl.
She spoke to Mallory’s back. “Hello. I’m Phoebe Rothschild.
I haven’t been here the last few days, but I know you’re Mallory.”
She waited until Mallory turned. The girl’s expression
was now quite blank.
Phoebe nodded toward an empty desk beside Mallory’s. “Is
this seat free? Or did Mrs. Fraser assign seats and I should
just go away and find mine?” She paused. Smiled. “Or maybe
you don’t want me sitting with you?”
For long seconds, Mallory didn’t respond. Finally she
shrugged. “This teacher lets us sit wherever we want.” She had
a low voice, a little flat. It was absolutely without an accent;
certainly not the local Boston accent that Phoebe’s mother,
Catherine, said drove her crazy.
“But is it okay with you if I’m here?” Phoebe persisted. “It
would be for the whole year. I’m a creature of habit.”
There was another brief silence before Mallory shrugged
again. “It’s okay. Sit there.”
Phoebe sat. She examined her class schedule as if it were
riveting reading. But she also stayed aware of Mallory, who
continued to stand and look out the window.
Phoebe could feel the amazed stare not only of Colette
Williams-White, but of her other satellites Emma Parry and
Jacklyn Ivy Lurvey and Hannah Simons.
Good, she thought. Watch me befriend Mallory Tolliver. And
think twice about targeting her, because you’ll have to do it to
me too. And you won’t.
Without rushing, Phoebe cupped her chin in her hand and
held Colette’s dangerous gaze. She felt herself breathing easily
and deeply. Then she smiled.
I am a Rothschild, Phoebe thought, and as she watched
Colette coolly, she knew Colette was thinking it too; that Colette
never forgot it; that Phoebe’s amazing, storied family history,
wealth, and power was the only reason that the borderline dorky
Phoebe had ever been a desirable friend for Colette in the first
place. Now, Phoebe realized, it would also get her free.
Why had she not realized this before? Why had she only
felt it was a burden, being a Rothschild? Why had she wished
to be ordinary? No matter. She could use it right now, and she
would. Her gaze on Colette’s grew a little softer, kinder, but no
less decisive. Good-bye, Phoebe thought. Good-bye.
It was so simple.
Colette’s eyes dropped. She turned—stumbling a little—
and sat down abruptly at her desk, her back to Phoebe.
But then things went right back to being complicated.
Mallory did not sit down at the desk next to Phoebe’s until the
bell rang for the start of homeroom and everyone else sat down
too. Phoebe was full of urgent questions about the strange new
girl. Was Mallory totally unaware of what had just happened?
Did she at least realize she needed help? Surely she did.
Phoebe leaned toward Mallory and dropped her voice low.
“Look. Mallory. You’re not wearing the right clothes. I can
help you. It’ll be better here—easier for you, I mean—if you
don’t look so different from the other girls. Okay?”
Mallory didn’t even glance at Phoebe. Ten seconds passed.
Phoebe waited. She thought about repeating herself, but she
knew Mallory had heard her.
An astounding thought occurred to Phoebe: Was she going
to be refused?
No. No! Mallory Tolliver wouldn’t be that stupid.
Would she?
Tension began to coil in Phoebe’s stomach. She didn’t look
around for Colette. It was too late; she’d chosen her path and
would not be forgiven. There was nothing to do but wait and
see how Mallory responded. And if this didn’t work, she’d be
friendless in the seventh grade.
Phoebe waited. She waited while Mrs. Fraser performed the business of homeroom. She waited through morning announcements.
All the while, Mallory kept her face turned aside.
How had the balance of power in this weird girl-game shifted
in mere minutes from Colette, and then—for one brief glorious
moment of power and self-assurance—to Phoebe, but then to
Mallory? Phoebe didn’t know. She only knew that it had.
Finally Phoebe could no longer stand it. She leaned over and
spoke again, even more quietly. She didn’t think she sounded
desperate, but she couldn’t be sure. All her newly found Rothschild
confidence had ebbed away.
“Mallory? Please. Will you please be my friend?”
The bell rang to mark the end of homeroom.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

• In Extraordinary, Mallory takes on the enormous task of saving her people. The Faerie Queen expresses her pride in Mallory and says,
“You were ever a ferocious sprout.” In what instances did Mallory show this ferocious spirit? (Was it always in service to the Queen?)
And when did her spirit falter?
• There were times in her life when Phoebe had wished to be ordinary. Would you rather be ordinary or extraordinary? Why? Which carries
the bigger burden?
• Discuss the ways in which wealth might alter relationships. For example, Phoebe realizes it was her wealth that attracted Colette to her in
the fi rst place, and it was because of her wealth that Colette would be unlikely to retaliate when rejected. Can you buy friendship? Do you
believe wealth can be a form of protection? Can it save one from negative attacks?
• Mallory says to Phoebe: “The history of our family and our people affects who we are in the present.” Do you think this is true? Does
your family history shape who you are today? In what ways?
• Phoebe’s mother, Catherine Rothschild, believes that the more the world gives you, the more you owe the world. Do you agree? Can you
give examples of individuals who seem to act on this principle?
• On several occasions, Phoebe expresses her belief that her mother wants her to be “worthy.” Do you ever feel this pressure? If so, where
does the expectation come from? Is it helpful? Why or why not?
• While discussing the signifi cance of Daisy Fay’s name in The Great Gatsby, Mallory leads Phoebe to clues about Ryland’s identity (whose
last name happens to be Fayne). Later, she’ll tell a story about Mayer Rothschild and the Faerie Queen. Why do you think Mallory is
being subtle in her warnings? Why is she cautioning Phoebe through word play and stories?
• One of the central themes of Extraordinary is loyalty. Mallory is divided between two intense loyalties: the love of her people and her love
for Phoebe. When have your loyalties been divided? Were you able to honor both sets of loyalties or did you have to choose? Can you
think of another instance in literature when a character was torn between two loyalties?
• Phoebe promises not to call Ryland (regarding Mrs. Tolliver), all the while knowing that she will. She thinks, “It would be for Mallory’s
own good, and Mrs. Tolliver’s too. And she’d apologize to Mallory later. This was yet another situation in which she knew better than
Mallory what should be done, just as she had known four years ago.” Do you think Phoebe did the right thing? Is it okay to step in for
a friend against the friend’s explicit wishes?
• Consider the nature and rules of promises. Mallory made a promise to the Faerie Queen before she meets and comes to regard Phoebe
so highly. In situations such as these, what is the more honorable thing to do -- to stick to your original promise, or to act on the new
information? Have you ever gone back on a promise? What would you have done if you were Mallory?
• Phoebe (under the infl uence of Mallory and Ryland) spends a good deal of time thinking about her own specialness. Do all humans, in all
cultures, long to be special? Why or why not? Do you think, as Phoebe proposed, feeling special is essential for our survival? Is being
special the same as being extraordinary?
• Nancy Werlin chose to build a fantasy around a real person with historical signifi cance. Why do you think she made this choice?
What challenges in writing this novel do you think the author likely faced?
• Phoebe claims Mallory’s story about Mayer Rothschild is offensive. Benjamin counters by saying, “. . . the Phoebe I used to know understood
that judging the actions of historical people from a completely modern attitude is stupid and shallow.” Do you agree? Can you think
of a time when it would be wrong to judge the actions of people of the past with the knowledge or sensitivity of today?
• The Faerie Queen says of Mayer Rothschild, “And we behave now as my Mayer did then, taking from others because it is the only way
to save ourselves. But we know fully what we do, which he did not. And we use guile, which he also did not.” Do you agree with this
statement? Should Rothschild have made the deal? Would you have made that deal if in the same situation? Why or why not?
• What is your defi nition of extraordinary? Is one born extraordinary? Or do you believe, as Werlin wrote: “there is always the capability
of becoming extraordinary, buried inside any ordinary being”? Can you be extraordinary at one point in your life and not another?
• In the end, when Mallory knocks the chalice out of Phoebe’s hand, she says, “She’s grown into herself.” What does this mean? In what
ways had Phoebe perhaps moved from ordinary to extraordinary?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the Author:

So, there I was, watching the musical Wicked (from the novel by Gregory Maguire, musical adaptation by Stephen Schwartz, with book by Winnie Holzman), and we'd gotten to the final scene where the two witches sing their goodbye duet to each other:

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.

Wicked and "For Good" made me want to try to write a novel that would go to that same core place. It would be about an enormously important friendship between two teenage girls, one more pivotal than a romantic love affair. This friendship would test both girls to their limits, and would force them to grow, not just into maturity, but into better selves than they could ever have imagined becoming alone.

For this to work, I felt, only a fantasy landscape would do.

Also, full disclosure. I wanted to repair what I saw as a tiny flaw in Wicked: in my view, Elphaba gave Glinda a lot more than she got in return. (And here I'll reference Holly Black who remarked in a recent speech that all art is in conversation with previous art [July 2010, Vermont College for the Fine Arts]).

But once I began working on my novel about the two teenage girls, one human, one fey, and of their friendship gone dangerously wrong because of some secret (what secret? I'd figure that out later), I had a second idea.

"Why can't my human girl be Jewish?"

It was a hasty, almost thoughtless choice. I expected my human girl, Phoebe, to be largely secular in her outlook, and so I didn't anticipate that her religious background would affect the story much.

Truly, all I was thinking about was making some room at the table for girls who, like me as a teenager, loved reading fantasy but sometimes wondered wistfully why there was never anyone like them in it.

But then, as I worked, I discovered that the decision had put me into a strange place of vulnerability and fear, for reasons that I only later began to understand (see Michael Weingrad's Spring 2010 essay, "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia," link below).

And so another quick, emotional choice followed: "I'll not only make Phoebe Jewish, I'll make her a Rothschild! I'll make her a member of the most storied Jewish family in modern history!"

I wanted to protect her, I now see. It was pure instinct, because she was going where Jews didn't go, and where they were—it seemed to my subconscious, which was suddenly demanding to be in charge—not known, not understood, and certainly not welcome.

And then my plot and my characters screeched off in a direction I would never have predicted. And Phoebe's heritage gave me the answer to the question "what secret?" that I had taken on faith, at the outset, that I would somehow find as I wrote.

I hope you'll judge for yourself how it all worked out.

-- Nancy Werlin

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "I loved Impossible, but this follow-up bored me."by riegerd (see profile) 03/22/11

I had a really hard time making it through this book. It was like punishment. The idea was good, just too slow and not interesting enouhgh. I really liked Impossible and read it in one day. I put off reading... (read more)

Rate this book
MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Join the leading website for book clubs with over 35,000 clubs and 20,000 reading guides.

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search




FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...