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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mini Reviews: Impossible & Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

Note: these two tales are not fairy tale retellings (or at least, not completely).  They fall into the "fairy tale-esque" category.  :)

Nancy Werlin

Lucy Scarborough is only 17, but she carries the burden of a curse that has already struck down several women in her family. Each of her afflicted ancestors failed at completing three seemingly impossible tasks, and each succumbed to madness at the birth of her first child. Facing this tragic fate, Lucy braces herself for a losing battle. Mercifully, she has allies in her struggle: intensely sympathetic foster parents and her loyal childhood friend Zach

I reviewed this last summer, but here's a recap of what I had to say:

I was excited for this one because of this gorgeous cover, & 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.

And I liked what Werlin did with the ballad. I liked the idea that Werlin was revisiting something from her youth 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. 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.

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.With a little more finesse, I think I'd give it an enthusiastic recommend, but instead it's a reserved one.

Nancy Werlin

Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe, but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself. Soon she'll discover the shocking truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe's ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn't been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?

A lot of what I said up there ↑ applies to Extraordinary, too, but my reaction was unfortunately less pleased overall.  The odd juvenile streak I saw in Impossible became an actual tendency in Werlin's writing in this.  There were times when it felt very young - not in content but in execution - and I hate to say it, but almost amateurish.

Don't get me wrong, there were parts I absolutely loved, and I think there are going to be a lot of people, many of them teen girls, who are going to connect with this book.  And there was a very dark streak that I liked and was prepared to explore.  But part of me felt like Werlin was holding back a little, and part of me felt like the story wasn't her story, but was a means to make a point.  This caused a whole mess of problems for me, in that to get where she wanted to go, things would happen that were silly or happened in a silly way, and a lot of explanation was put into people's mouths. [I hate this]  These two traits, this way of telling the story and trying to move it forward, and using and changing Phoebe to do it, felt unnatural and is what ultimately gave me that amateurish feel.

What was weird - and I noticed this in Impossible, too - is that parts would be really strong and unflinching, and then something would come along that didn't gel and halted me in my tracks.  It was like something someone would write in your HS English class, when they have a point and they know where they're going, but they don't know how to get there, so they fake it hoping to make it.  There was so much potential to finesse a great story out of this, but it just didn't happen for me.

And I think (but I could be wrong) that I've figured out why this is.  From the way Nancy goes along with a very dark, adult tale, and then throws in explanations and juvenile-ness, I think maybe she doubts her audience (or her editor does).  It feels like someone flicks a switch and says "This is too dark, this is too hard to handle, this is too mature, this is too ______" and so she throws in something to explain or lighten or make convenient for a reader - but all it really accomplishes is undoing the work she's done and taking what could be a great, albeit dark and challenging, story and turn it into something laced with second-guessing.

That being said, I think she is talented and would read her again, and I read an ARC, so the problems I had could have been fixed or lessened in the final version.

Make sure to check out our giveaways of both of these books!

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