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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

by Nancy Werlin

Lucy Scarborough has a fairly normal life for a 17 year old.  That is, until she is attacked and finds herself pregnant and under a curse that has plagued the women in her family for generations.  Now, Lucy has 9 months to figure out a way to perform 3 impossible tasks and break the curse before her daughter is born and Lucy is taken by madness.  Lucy must break the curse not just for herself, but to keep it from happening to her own daughter, just as it did to her mother and all of the lonely Scarborough women, and now to her.
But unlike her own mother, and their mothers before them, Lucy is not alone; but will it be enough?
Based on the "Scarbarough Fair" ballad, Impossible is a retelling with a disturbing twist.

  You may recall from a past Friday Face Off that I was excited for this one because of this gorgeous winning cover.  And in some ways, it lived up to my excitement, while at the same time, falling short in others.  Werlin presents a very modern, disturbing slant on the age old ballad.  She layers the book with enough realism and negativity (nothing is ever falsely sugar-coated; Lucy is a realist, if nothing else) that I was able to believe that things may not be wrapped up with the expected "happily ever after."  I like having that doubt when I read a story, because I like thinking that an author is going to do what's right for the story and the characters they have created, and not cop out with an easy, happy ending.  Because of this realistic streak and clearheadedness from Lucy, the magical elements of the story, no matter how far-fetched, seemed more balanced and true, which I definitely liked.  Lucy felt real, and I cared about her and the plight of the Scarborough women.

And I liked what Werlin did with the ballad.  In her afterword, Werlin talks about how the book came about, saying she loved the Simon and Garfunkel version as a kid, but as she got older and really listened to the words (in which a man requests that a woman complete impossible tasks to be his true love), she had an epiphany: he doesn't love her, he hates her.  Faced with this new 'understanding' of the ballad, Werlin set about fleshing out their story; clearly, there was once something between them, but something soured it.  Her story of Impossible grew from this seed.  This idea really struck me.  I liked the idea that she was revisiting something and approaching it from a fresh angle, and that whole "thin line between love and hate" element was brilliant, I think, and a very adult take for a YA novel.  I really liked this aspect.

Unfortunately, it was inconsistent.  Werlin's adult application to the story wasn't carried throughout.  Sometimes the writing was very adult and forward, and sometimes it was almost juvenile and a bit weak for me.  The characters, too, were inconsistent.  The Elfin Knight (bad guy of yore) was very villainous, for sure; at times he made my skin crawl, which was great*.  But there are more fine lines than the one between ♥/hate, and his villain-line was occasionally crossed into cheese territory.  I wish she would have dialed it back just a bit at the end.  And though Lucy felt fleshed out and real to me, the other important characters felt occasionally cardboard.  Not always, by any means, but I just found myself wishing for a little more from them.

Now, all this being said, I didn't dislike the story.  It didn't live up to the excitement generated by its cover or the subject matter, or to the really good threads I saw running through it -- but it wasn't a failure, either, and I don't regret buying it.  I could tell it was well researched and plotted out, but it just had a tendency, especially in the beginning, to feel a little clunky and young.  In spite of this, I found myself engaged, and I didn't ever not want** to read it; I found myself thinking about Lucy and the tasks, and the story in general, and that's a good sign. With a little more finesse, I think I'd give it an enthusiastic recommend, but instead it's a reserved one.  If you like fairytale retellings and stories that make you a little uncomfortable, you'll like this one and will likely be able to overlook the issues; if you don't, I'm just not sure...

*Yep.  Great skin-crawling.  But that means it was effective, so that's a  + in my opinion.
**If that made any sense...


Here's the Friday Face Off in which Impossible was featured, and here's the Teaser Tuesday in which I read from it.

Visit Nancy Werlin's website, which has lots of neato stuff, including excerpts, interviews, reviews, etc.

Impossible was the book of the month in September, 2008, at the Compulsive Reader, where they had a Scarborough family tree which expands on the story and offers a glimpse of the lives of the Scarborough women; they also had a post about the music used in the book, which Nancy researched at length, and which provided the basis of the story.

Here's the trailer.  I am not a fan of this voice over...


  1. I've always loved S&G but never truly listened to the lyrics of Scarborough Fair. (As soon as I finish writing this comment I'm looking up the lyrics!) I love the take this book took. I doubt I'll buy it, but I'll definitely check it out at the library! :)

  2. This is pretty much how I felt about this book as well. I really liked some aspects of it, but others didn't really win me over. Great review! :)

  3. I'm reading reviews of this book and everybody seems to seems to feel the same as you. I love characters that the readers feel for, so maybe I'll read this one because I was hesitant at first. But I'll probably hold off for a bit (I have a huge TBR pile I need to put a dent in).

  4. Good review-- I think you captured exactly what I thought. This is aside from my irrational fear or pregnant women, of course, but I understand. ;p

  5. I was hesitant at first to read this too. But I did like the fact this was a story where all of this was...well...real! No fancy world to describe all this magic. It was a real part of this story. Have you by any chance heard the Medieval Baebes' version of Scarborough? I remember having it on repeat while reading this.

  6. This book sounds really strange to me, but the reviews have been consistently good. I'm torn...

  7. I read this book a few years ago and it was amazing.

  8. Glad you liked it, Rachael. Have you read anything else by her?


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