Impossible, by Nancy Werlin

Apparently Nancy Werlin primarily writes ‘literary suspense’ novels for YA/teen readers. She began publishing in the mid-1990s, and Impossible is her first book that is explicitly on the border of fantasy. She has a B.A. from Yale College, and won an Edgar Award for a novel entitled Locked Inside at some point. She was born in Peabody, Massachusetts, and has worked as a technical writer for various software and internet companies, in addition to her fiction writing.

Lucy Scarborough is a normal twenty-first-century girl, living in Massachusetts. Well, a normal girl with a crazy mother who is a bag lady in town, but she’s got a wonderful set of foster parents, Soledad and Leo Markowitz, some good friends, and a date to the junior/senior prom coming up shortly. Until an unfortunate event occurs at the prom, she turns up pregnant, and she finds her mother’s diary. In the diary, she finds out that all of the women in her family, as far back as anyone can remember, are under a curse; they all become pregnant at seventeen and when they give birth at eighteen, if they haven’t completed three impossible tasks (as detailed in a variant of “Scarborough Faire”), they go crazy. Fortunately, she has help, but not much time. Can she accomplish these things and stay sane?

Apparently Ms. Werlin realized at some point that the so-called ‘impossible’ tasks in the ballad “Scarborough Faire” (most know the Simon & Garfunkel version, but it predates them by a few hundred years) were made less impossible by modern technology, but that doesn’t mean that they’re exactly easy. However, it provided the basis for the book, and a decidedly interesting retelling of a ballad that, well, generally isn’t retold. I generally like ballad tales — see this for my favorite example — and Ms. Werlin makes a story that absolutely retains the human, personal element, while still keeping the historical and universal context of a song that has remained in the popular knowledge for so long.

I find it necessary to warn readers that the aforementioned “unfortunate event” is rape. Although it’s described in less-than-detailed terms, Ms. Werlin leaves absolutely no room for interpretation otherwise (as well she shouldn’t) and readers who are sensitive to such subjects should consider themselves forewarned. I didn’t know it was coming, and it was a bit of a shock. The aftermath is surprisingly believable, as is Lucy’s nearly supernatural determination to continue the pregnancy, once she knows it’s happening. Her foster mother, Soledad, is a midwife, so they both know what’s coming, and they know that life will be difficult.

Lucy’s life is made simultaneously easier and more complicated by the presence of Zach Greenfield, a longtime neighbor who is staying with the Markowitzes for the summer. Easier, of course, because he is just a couple years older than Lucy and has volunteered to stay around and help her with the tasks, as well as providing emotional support, but more complicated, being that there is an emotional connection and emerging relationship. Lucy and Zach’s struggle with this, especially in the aftermath of her rape, is somewhat condensed, but read as convincing to me, based on their history. Of course, the ballad and the story are about true love, so it is necessary for Lucy to have a real love interest, but I liked Zach on his own merits.

Overall, it’s definitely a book for somewhat older readers (probably age 14 or 15 and older), but even adults will find the story warm and the characters interesting. There’s a strong theme on families — what makes one, and that the family you choose (or who chooses you) is just as much yours as the one you’re born into. The good guys are obviously good and the bad guys obviously bad, and the end is satisfying. Those who like romantic tales will certainly be satisfied, and the preternatural/fantastic elements should be enough for urban/contemporary-set fantasy readers. 4.5/5 stars.

3 thoughts on “Impossible, by Nancy Werlin”

  1. Thanks for the warning! This was on my list, but I find it really upsetting to read about rape in books (Adele Geras’s Watching the Roses completely traumatized me when I was younger). I read one other of Nancy Werlin’s books, and it was good, so I’ll probably still read this. You know, later.

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