In the mountain town of Remarkable, everyone is extraordinarily talented, extraordinarily gifted, or just plain extraordinary. Everyone, that is, except Jane Doe, the most average ten-year-old who ever lived and the only student not admitted to Remarkable’s School for the Remarkably Gifted. But everything changes when the mischievous, downright criminal Grimlet twins enroll in Jane’s school and a strange sweet-toothed pirate captain appears in town.
Thus begins a series of adventures that put some of Remarkable’s most infamous inhabitants and their long-held secrets in danger. It’s up to Jane, in her own modest style, to come to the rescue and prove that she, too, is capable of some rather exceptional things. –publisher’s comments/back cover.
If Remarkable sounds a bit silly and fun and lesson-y, it is the first two things. Lizzie K Foley has a flawless style: the writing is clean and the reading effortless; the setting and the characters are beautifully rendered and humorously imagined. Seemingly disparate actions/lines smoothly come together in a enjoyable conclusion where lessons are learned but not obnoxiously served.
Natalya’s teacher mentioned her a time or two to his wife. His wife finished Remarkable and thought N would very much enjoy it, too. She did. She read excerpts to me in her excitement, and the humor was spot-on. N likes absurdity just as much as her mother. When I tell you N mentioned Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress, you should know this is an incredible honor. It was the fully realized characters who were both extraordinary and marvelously familiar, but completely amusing. And it was the various lines trekking along that you are unsure of, but come to be woven quite perfectly.
An adult will likely solve some of the mysteries, expect some of the trajectories beforehand, but such does not detract from the read. Miss story time with your Grade-Schooler or Middle-Schooler and do not want to read a “classic”? This one is a good time.
When N was handed this, and she read me the synopsis, I wasn’t sure what teacher and wife were trying to say. Do they think N is remarkable and that is why she came to mind (which she is by the way, of course she is), or do they think she is more like Jane in a sea of extraordinary people feeling all alone in her ordinariness? The wondering was rendered moot. Remarkable doesn’t care who you are so much as it wants you to live your best life, to find yourself and be brave and pursue yourself whole-heartedly. All three parts are equally difficult, but incredibly worth it. This is why N comes to mind for me: an intelligent and creative young lady in her first year of middle school who is determined to be her oft strange self (no matter how much ‘contrariness’ figures in).
Jane struggles with not being remarkable. She isn’t even unremarkable–that is her Grandpa John (whom I love!). Jane is painfully average, as you will come to know. She is so average, it takes her average mind to puzzle out the goings-on. She is one of the most unheroic and heroic protagonists in a juvenile adventure you are likely to read. Foley is gorgeously consistent with her characters. Jane’s woes will likely not feel unfamiliar to most. But Jane isn’t the only character with struggles. The remarkable have difficulties all their own.
What if something or someone (by all accounts) should be remarkable but is not?__What if the person you are crushing on doesn’t find your particular gift all that interesting? And what if you realize you are not good at much else, especially those kinds of things that would woo the other? What if you ignore other people’s good sense and think you are a genius at everything anyway?__What happens when others consider their genius more valid?__What if you were so remarkable very little could impress you, and few would be unimpressed by you?__What if you had other interests, would you be allowed to pursue them? What are the pressures of being genius?__What happens if you cannot pursue who you are and/or make use of your gifts?__What happens when you do not receive the recognition or reward you deserve or desire?
The exploration of these (few) questions are painless if not actually pleasurable. With each character drawn forward we experience smiles, sadness, winces, and hope–“bad guys” and good alike. The characters are memorable: my favorites: the psychic owner of the pizza parlor, the elder brother, Dr. Pike, Grandpa John, the twins, and Ms. Schnabel. Jane comes across as unremarkable in that she comes in and out of the story quietly–normally–but she isn’t forgettable. The individuality is great, but what is wonderful to visit is how each character comes into contact/relationship with another.
For all the fun to be found in Remarkable, Foley doesn’t go too over the top nor gets lost in her own cleverness. It has lessons if you want them, commiseration when you need it, but it is over-all a good clean fun adventure with a creature in the lake, a diabolical machine, a love-struck teenager, and a school teacher pirate. Do visit Remarkable when you can.
recommendations: girls and boys, “gifted” or no, avid-reader or no, upper elementary-thru-middle-school; reads humor, adventure, pirates, charmingly strange, light-but-not-fluffy; young writers will be inspired by the characters, the transitions and intersections, the overall structure, and the relief from weighty metaphor and poetics.
of note: the teacher lent this with the understanding that (reading enthusiast) N would pass it along to another, keeping record in the inside cover. Lovely, unintentional marketing, and one that is hard to fault with such an accessible book as Foley’s.
also, “The Inspiration for Remarkable in the Author’s Words” as found in the front of the ARC was a lovely addition. Learning about the author’s two remarkable older sisters (multi-lingual, photographic memory & model, star basketball player) and of Lizzie who “was the small, plain dorky sister who wore an eye patch in elementary school and always had a bad haircut (sometimes self-administered)” was a good way to start the book. But the last lines are particularly note-worthy: “Jane’s ordinariness doesn’t keep her from having good friendships, real adventures, or a rich life. My ordinariness never has either.” I hope this will be included in the final copy, even if it would be found at the end. It won me over before I had even begun.
Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), 2012.
paperback, ARC, 325 pages.