Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.
Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted.
Author: Miriam Spitzer Franklin
Publication date: May 5, 2015
I received Extraordinary from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review.
When I included Extraordinary in my post about middle grade books I’m looking forward to in 2015, I was afraid it would be too sad for me. It isn’t a sad book overall, but there are sad moments just like there are in life. Pansy’s best friend Anna suffered brain damage after contracting meningitis at camp — a camp that Pansy was supposed to go to with Anna. Pansy backed out at the last minute, like she did with a lot of things, and stayed home. The last time the two girls saw each other before Anna’s illness, Anna was mad at Pansy.
Pansy’s too young to fully articulate it, but it’s pretty clear that she carries around a lot of guilt over letting Anna down. To make things worse, Pansy misunderstands when she overhears her mother talking to Anna’s mother about Anna’s upcoming surgery. Pansy takes it to mean that Anna will be cured, that she will be just like the old Anna, and she won’t listen when people try to explain to her that there’s no cure for brain damage. It’s too much for her to face, the realization that Anna will never be the same again. To prepare for the return of the old Anna, Pansy’s determined to become the best friend Anna has always deserved, to be extraordinary. She cuts her hair, starts a fifth grade fashion trend, joins Girl Scouts, learns to Rollerblade and ice skate, and chases the Independent Reader trophy. Some of these are things that Pansy was too afraid to try in the past, some were things that interested Anna, and some of them (like the fashion trend) just happen.
Soon Pansy’s exhausted, her grades are suffering, she suspects she’s cheating at Independent Reader, and she doesn’t have time for Andy, Anna’s twin brother. At the beginning of the year, Andy and Pansy are close, but as Pansy gets busier and busier, and as she starts spending time with some of the girls in her class, she notices Andy pulling away. She seems to expect him to sit around waiting for her, even though she’s so busy and keeps putting him off when when he asks her over to his house. I really liked their friendship and I was disappointed to see it changing, but it’s natural that Pansy would want to be friends with some other girls, too. Fortunately, Andy doesn’t just sit around waiting for Pansy. He makes new friends too!
When the date of Anna’s surgery finally arrives, Pansy has to face the truth: the Anna who returned from camp is the real Anna now. Pansy finally breaks down when she realizes that she’s lost the Anna she knew. I love that scene, and the way her mother is there for her. That’s when it really hit me that Pansy is only ten years old. It’s a heartbreaking lesson for someone so young to learn, but her grief over the loss of her best friend (or a parent or a pet) is something so many children face every day.
I usually stay away from books, especially middle grade books, with heavier themes, but I’m glad I gave Extraordinary a chance. Pansy is just a regular kid unexpectedly facing some big issues. Some children will be able to relate to her, while others can learn from her.