Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Review: Impossible

Nancy Werlin
2008; Dial (Penguin); 978-0-8037-3002-1 (hardback)

Summary: Lucy Scarborough has so much to look forward to: a date to the prom with the guy she likes, a summer with her best friend Sarah and her oldest friend Zach, time spent with her foster parents, Soledad and Leo. And after a disastrous, horrifying prom night, Lucy discovers her family's secret: at seventeen, every Scarborough girl becomes pregnant and goes crazy shortly after delivering a daughter of her own. Only if she breaks the curse placed on her family will Lucy be able to avoid this fate. But how can she make a shirt without seams, without using a needle? Where is an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand? And how could you sow all that land with just a single grain of corn?

Four Things to Know about Impossible

#1: It's about family.

As I read Impossible, I couldn't help thinking of The Rules of Survival, Nancy Werlin's previous book and a National Book Award finalist to boot. And like that book, Impossible is about the impact of family on a teenager's life. While The Rules of Survival portrayed the negative impacts, this novel shows the positives. Not only do Soledad and Leo completely support Lucy in her quest to break the curse, but Miranda, Lucy's birth mother, gives guidance in her own way. In addition, friends are seen as equally valuable: Sarah, although she's pushed aside somewhat during Lucy's experience, is still there for her friend, at the moment when Lucy most needs a friend--not her mother, not her boyfriend.

#2: Romance and love can have shades of meaning.

Werlin says in her afterword that she was partly inspired by listening to Simon & Garfunkle's Scarborough Fair with adult ears, and finding the romantic ballad of her youth had a different dimension now. The darkness of the demands expressed in the song are indicative of the Elfin Knight's curse upon the Scarborough women, his revenge upon them for being denied by the first Scarborough. To contrast this dark, twisted feeling, the love of Zach and Lucy is presented as the bright prism through which we read the last third of the novel. At the end, as both Zach and Lucy struggle in their own way with completing the third task, each of them rearrange the words of the song and return the lyrics to the original romantic intent.

#3: Logic can solve any puzzle.

One of the beauties of this novel is giving such prominence to a concept that teachers try so hard to teach their students: analysis of a text. Lucy and her team look at each word in the ballad, trying to determine how they can break the curse by fulfilling each of the demands. Drawing upon their existing knowledge, and through the serendipity of luck, they find answers to each of the riddles in the song. Only with this scrutiny of the ballad does Lucy manage to find the answers, figuring out the loopholes and following the letter of the demand. This process reminded me somewhat of the logic puzzle used in the first Harry Potter book, when Hermione determines which potion will allow Harry to proceed in his quest. But a moment that takes a few pages in Harry Potter is the bulk of this novel.

#4: Some things do live up to the hype.

I heard fellow librarians raving about Impossible months ago. Not being quite as up on teen literature as they are, I contented myself with waiting to read this. Yet once I got an advance copy and started reading, I ravenously consumed it. I just had to finish it--I had to find out what happened. And once I did, I understood the raves for this book. So often, books or anything else can fall short. It's a pleasure to say that Impossible does just as its title says: it's as good as everyone says.

A complementary novel, featuring a male perspective on breaking a fairy-tale curse, is Beastly by Alex Flinn. Impossible is sure to sweep away older teen girls with its romance and drama. This would also be a great fantasy read for those who don't like fantasy.

1 comment:

Nancy Werlin said...

Thank you so much for the thoughtful review. I'm particularly glad to see that you understood the connection between this book and Rules of Survival; not everyone does.

all best,

Nancy Werlin