After Claire’s friend is caught bringing booze into the high school dance, her parents immediately pull her from her friends and enroll her in Cambial, the school that their family had started. Cambial Academy caters to training those who are gifted with having supernatural skills and Claire, having chosen to hide her bizarre gift, did not want to be part of this “school of freaks”. Those students who are particularly talented get inducted into a school group called The Exceptionals and when they start disappearing, everyone is on high alert. Claire struggles with whether to keep her strange ability to hear animals at bay or to try and train herself to use it to help her fellow students before it’s too late.
Right off the bat, when I read the premise, I was intrigued. It sounded a lot like X-Men, with Xavier’s School for the Gifted and while there are many YA books out there that have to do with kids honing their special skills, this had a very different feel to it. The characters all had distinctive qualities and enough mystery to them that you were never quite sure what their motives were. Cashman does a fantastic job at building the tension and pacing out the story, keeping everyone on high alert with who would disappear next – and why, culminating in an action-packed finale.
My one sticking point that I didn’t understand was why the interest in Claire and this ability to hear animals? That was never really satisfactorily explained on why hearing animals was such a big deal to everyone. I actually found the scenes where her skills were being used to be not as interesting as the rest of the story. The Exceptionals is definitely more an ensemble cast that brings the story together rather than Claire being the “lead”. It’s the overall cast of characters, situations and circumstances that really make this a unique and entertaining read.
I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Erin Cashman as part of this review and considering The Exceptionals reminded me of X-Men, I’m very surprised at her answer to my first question!
1. The students of Cambial have a very “X-Men School for the Gifted” feel to it. Are you a fan of comic books to inspire you with this story?
I’ve actually never seen any of the X-Men movies or read the comic books. I am not a fan of comic books – but probably because I’ve never read one. I’m sure that there are some that I would love. I recently started watching Heroes (which I love!) on Netflix, and I did see similarities between The Exceptionals and Heroes. I love the idea of evolution, and wondering how people might evolve.
2. I’m sure you’ve been asked which Special you’d have in almost every interview, so instead, I’m going to ask which Special you LEAST want to have?
I’m not much of a science girl, so I definitely would not want to be a science wiz like Henry. Also, I think knowing the future would be both a blessing and a curse. I would not want to be clairvoyant.
3. How did you come up with the idea for a Special to be hearing the thoughts of animals?
I had the idea for The Exceptionals years ago. Growing up, my father often told me that we only use ten percent of our brain power. I often wondered, can some people use more? Did Einstein use more of his brain than most people? Did Shakespeare? And what about people who are mediums or clairvoyant? My mother believed in ghosts, and she used to visit a medium. Maybe the medium could use a different part of her brain. I loved thinking about what different “specials” the students would have, and what they could do. When I finally sat down to write the book, I tried to think of a unique ability for my protagonist, Claire, but I had a hard time finding something that felt right. A few days later I took my dog for a walk, and two majestic hawks circled above me the entire time. And then it just hit me – Claire could communicate with animals!
4. What has been the most surprising thing for you as a debut author?
Two things have both surprised me and been my favorite part of being a published author. The first is how enthusiastic and excited the readers are. I get wonderful emails through my website and comments on the Facebook page for The Exceptionals. It is so rewarding! I love hearing from fans of the book. Also, since being published I have met several amazing authors, and I am part of Book Pregnant, a group of 30 debuting novelists. The kindness, support and generosity of other writers was a wonderful surprise.
I quite enjoyed this book and would love to share it with a fellow reader, so here’s your chance to win a copy!
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