Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Exceptionals

The Exceptionals

Erin Cashman
For ages 12 to 14
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Madeleine Lambert
AudioGO, 2012   ISBN: 978-1609988197

Claire Walker’s family is full of people who are not ordinary. At all. They all have abilities that are remarkable and often quite powerful. Her mother can read people’s emotions, her father is a master codebreaker and mathematician, her brother Billy is telekinetic, and her sister Charlotte can communicate with the dead. Claire’s great-grandfather founded a unique school called Cambial that provides a special kind of education for people who have these kinds of abilities. In spite of the fact that she comes from a long line of extraordinary people, Claire is very ordinary indeed. Some time ago she realized that she could understand what animals are thinking, but she does not consider this much of an ability, and so Claire was able to convince her parents to let her go to a normal school.

Then Claire gets into trouble and her parents decide that she has to become a student at Cambial so that they can keep an eye on her - they both teach at the school and live in a house on the campus. Claire is furious for a while, until she realizes that the school isn’t that bad. She starts to make friends and, since she has no special ability, her afternoons are free and she can work on writing her animal stories if she wants to.

Claire likes to go into the woods on campus when she can, which is how she meets a really achingly good looking boy who is charming and mysterious. In spite of her natural caution, Claire is drawn to the boy, who always manages to come up with evasive answers to the questions she asks about who he is and where he is from.

Some time ago Claire told her family that her being-able-to-understand-animals ability had gone, but this was a lie. She still can understand them and one day Billy, who goes to Cambial, figures this out. With his guidance, Claire begins to work on developing her ability, and to her amazement she gets better and better at understanding what animals are thinking. Then, soon after she saves a young eagle from being eaten by a fox, Claire figures out how to talk to animals as well as understand them. She has an honest-to-goodness ability now, but after being cautioned to keep it to herself by several people, she decides to do just that.

While Claire is getting used to her new life and learning how to tap into her ability, strange things start to happen at the school. Students who belong to the Exceptional Society, the most gifted young people in the school, start to disappear. Claire and her family members begin to think that someone is kidnapping the students, and they begin to wonder if Timothy Wilder, a former student and teacher who went rogue, might be behind what is going on. Timothy, unlike Claire’s family members, felt that people with abilities should use those abilities for gain, no matter who they hurt in the process. Years ago there was a battle between Claire’s family members, and Wilder and his supporters, and Wilder’s side lost. People thought he had died in the battle, but maybe he didn’t. Maybe he is recruiting people to his cause again, and kidnapping exceptionals to help him create the criminal empire that he craves.

This gripping story not only gives listeners a taste of what it is like to have a ‘superpower.’ It also gives them the opportunity to think about how having a superpower could be a rather frightening responsibility. How should a person use their ability, and how much should they benefit from it?