Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery

Anything But Ordinary is a book filled with much promise but which ultimately will leave readers disappointed.

Seventeen year old Bryce Graham is a promising diver who suffers a devastating, coma-inducing brain injury during an Olympic trials dive competition. Anything But Ordinary opens when Bryce awakens five years later in Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Her younger sister, Sydney, is now seventeen, her father's hair is grayer and things have changed immensely as Bryce is about to learn. She has missed graduating from Hilwood High and four years of college. Bryce wonders about what has happened to her best friends and teammates, Greg and Gabby.

In the days immediately after awakening from the coma, Bryce makes a remarkable recovery. She can talk, use her hands and use a wheelchair. She is even beginning to stand and take a few steps. This makes her recovery all the more astounding and of interest to researchers in neurology. Although Bryce's recovery appears to be going well, in fact, she is having strange visions accompanied by intense pain. While most of the visions are of events that have already happened, Bryce does have a vision of the future as well. She decides that she will not tell anyone about what is happening, despite being asked about her memory by her doctor, Dr. Warren.

Dr. Warren, who suspects Bryce isn't being truthful about what's going on, wants Bryce to remain in hospital for several more weeks to undergo tests, but Bryce wants to leave as soon as possible. Anxious to get on with her life, Bryce is allowed to go home. At home though, Bryce discovers that life for her family has changed a great deal. Her parents argue and are no longer close. Her father has quit coaching and stopped working on the airplane he was building. And her sister Sydney is a party animal, often getting drunk and staying out late at night to party.

As she begins to take her life back and heal from her brain injury, Bryce feels trapped by her past and the years she has missed. While she has been in a coma, life has gone on for Gabby and Greg, both of whom went to Stanford instead of Vanderbuilt which they received scholarships for.  Bryce's world is further turned upside down when she learns that Gabby and Greg are engaged to be married and that they are moving to D.C where Gabby will study law. Greg was Bryce's boyfriend before her accident and now she must come to terms with the fact that he is marrying her best friend. This is even more difficult because Gabby seems oblivious to the effect this has on Bryce whom she has asked to be her maid of honour.

When Bryce returns to Vanderbilt for a CAT scan, she has a vision while undergoing the scan. The results puzzle her doctors but she refuses to stay in hospital and has her new friend, Carter, who is a second year medical student drive her home. Eventually Carter does tell Bryce the result of the scans and what it means for her future.

Bryce continues to prepare for Gabby and Greg's wedding, by agreeing to be Gabby's maid of honour and going shopping for dresses. Greg, however, is having second thoughts about the wedding and tells Bryce he is still in love with her. He begins to see her behind Gabby's back and although Bryce tries to discourage him and continually walks away from him, she does become involved with him again, while also beginning a relationship with Carter.

Bryce tries to encourage her parents to reclaim their lives again and to develop a life outside of looking after her. She eventually manages to talk to Sydney and come to an understanding of what her younger sister's life must have been like while she was in a coma for five years and her parent's life revolved around keeping watch at the hospital.

It takes Sydney to help Bryce come to the realization that her relationship with Greg belongs in the past. At the rehearsal dinner when Greg once again confronts Bryce about his marriage to Gabby, Bryce asks him what he really wants in life and tells him that this is something he alone must determine. At this time, Carter reveals to Bryce the result of the earlier CAT scan and the true state of her health.

While the concept behind this story was interesting, Avery does some things well but misses the mark on others. Lara Avery does a great job of portraying the difficulties a young person might encounter after being sidelined for just long enough to make a substantial difference. Bryce is physically 22 years old but still emotionally only 17 years old. While her friends have finished university and are socially more mature, Bryce is still very much a teen. The author also does a good job of capturing the emotional toll of Bryce's injury on her family. Sydney, who feels abandoned by both her parents as they focus on Bryce, rebels with her goth clothing and acting out.

Because Bryce's physical abilities return so quickly (she is walking within a matter of days) that aspect of her recovery takes a second hand to the relationships in her life - especially her friends from high school.  In fact, the relationship between Gabby, Greg and Bryce takes the forefront of the storyline. Bryce seems to become completely focused on Greg and Gabby, who have developed a life together but which gradually unwinds after Bryce comes back into their lives. Bryce seems unable to come to terms with their relationship and to recognize the blossoming interest of Carter, who has more than a passing interest in her. She repeatedly tells Greg that she doesn't want to meet him again, yet continues to do so.

Greg is confused and behaves in a very dishonorable way by refusing to acknowledge that he is leading Gabby on, meeting Bryce behind her back and even trying to pursue a physical relationship with Bryce. And Gabby doesn't seem to recognize Greg's interest in Bryce. This strange triangle is frustrating and predictable. We know Greg is probably going to call off the wedding and when he does, it's really no surprise.

Bryce received little help in terms of psychological counselling to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She was simply allowed to sign out of the hospital because she was legally an adult and she refused to return for check-ups. This was ostensibly due to the visions which Bryce wanted to keep secret, but this wasn't believable.  The visions were never really explained and while most were of events that happened while Bryce was in a coma, one inexplicably was of a future event that allowed Bryce to save her sister.

Near the end of the novel, Bryce finally confronts Sydney, who has suddenly "burnt out" from her bad behaviour and now appears to be open to talking to her sister. Bryce learns what life has been like for Sydney for the past five years. This was a very interesting scene and it was too bad their relationship wasn't explored more in the book. It would have added considerable depth to both characters.

The ending of the novel was a complete shocker and very disappointing. I can't imagine how Carter felt after discovering what Bryce had done. It was inexplicable and even strange.I also didn't really understand the unusual cicada motif which appears throughout the novel.

I feel that this book had much potential, but lots of loose ends and under developed characters. A great cover and an interesting opening chapter will draw readers in. They will stay to find out what happens but will be left with lots of questions.

Book Details:
Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery
New York: Hyperion       2012
327 pp.

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