Synopsis for Goodreads: Born into a famous family of exceptionally talented people, 15-year-old Claire Walker has deliberately chosen to live an average life. But everything changes the night of the Spring Fling, when her parents decide it’s high time she transferred to Cambial Academy–the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities.
My Rating: 4½ stars/5 stars
My Review: Claire Crane Walker knows she isn’t as talented as the rest of her family. Her mother is a truth seeker, her father is a math genius/code breaker, her older brother is telekinetic, and her younger sister can commune with the dead. All Claire can do is hear the thoughts of animals, a skill that makes her feel like a fraud since can’t really prove her abilities to those around her. Consequently, Claire has always resisted enrolling in Cambial, a school for the supremely gifted and talented and a school that was founded and still run by her family. But, after an ill-fated night with her “normal” friends, Claire finds herself in the one place she never wanted to be, at Cambial.
For Claire, life at Cambial seems like a life of misery and doom (of course it does, she’s a melodramatic 15-year-old girl). She has convinced everyone around her, including her truth seeker mother, that she has lost her ability to hear animals. As it turns out, Claire’s “lost” ability is going to come in quite handy as she, her brother and sister, and a select group of friends begin a desperate search for Cambial’s Exceptionals. The Exceptionals are Cambial’s best and brightest, those who wield enormous skill, talent, and intelligence, and they are being picked off one by one by a very powerful and very secretive source. For Claire and her friends, honing their skills and uncovering this malevolent source is critical as they are slowly but surely losing members of their inner circle.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this YA novel. Here’s what I liked:
1. The cast of characters: The kids are actually kids and teenagers, and they act like kids and teenagers. In a great many YA novels, the kids and teenagers are just mini-adults and are often involved in very adult situations. In many instances, I find myself wondering “Where the Hell are their parents?” Cashman provides us with a group of kids who still have a great sense of wonder and enthusiasm; they are all still stoked by what they are learning and able to accomplish. These young characters are refreshing in that they worry about missing curfew, being caught and punished for their transgressions, and disappointing their peers and parents alike.
Of the group I particularly enjoyed Claire’s can-do attitude, Henry’s intelligence and his enthusiasm, Billy’s perseverance, and little Charlotte’s general attitude of haughtiness.Among the animals that populated the story, I was quite drawn to Ferana the hawk and her great sense of protectiveness and dignity. Ferana helps and trusts Claire when it is not in her best interest to do so. The resulting relationship between Claire and Ferana is quite touching. Then there is Tabby the cat, who is just wretched and awful, and I really liked her; her attitude and refusal to speak to Claire is so cat like and awesome. As with the human characters, Cashman created real and distinct personalities in the animals that played a larger role in the story.
2. The Plot: The plot was quite entertaining, well-paced and just a tiny bit creepy. Students and faculty alike are disappearing from a highly exclusive and even more highly secluded school, and no one seems to know how or why this is happening. Turns out the disappearances may be linked to Cambial’s past, and a long thought dead disgruntled ex-professor by the name of Wilder. It takes every ounce of ability on the part of Claire (yes, she finally fesses up to actually having a talent) and all her friends to uncover the plot and save the day. The kids are clever, daring, and more than a little courageous. Between classes, curfews, and the saving of the world, the kids form strong bonds with one another that serve to strengthen their friendship and the plot. The plot unfolds at a decent pace, with plenty of action and moments between the action that allow the reader to catch up on some of the major characters, their backstories, and the history of Cambial.
The Bottom Line: In order to be completely fair, I do have a couple of issues with The Exceptionals, and both of those issues involve the same character: Dylan. From the beginning, Dylan just wasn’t right; he was far too eager to get close to Claire and far, far too nosy about her presence in the forest. My other issue with Dylan has to do with how rapidly his relationship with Claire developed. Even in the land of make believe, I found it completely unreasonable how quickly Claire and Dylan’s attachment to one another formed. With this being said, these two issues didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I say the following in the most laudatory manner: The Exceptionals is a bit like the Scooby Gang meets the X-Men, and I am quite excited for the possibility of more of The Exceptionals!