Wednesday, 17 March 2010

CBR 35: "Impossible" by Nancy Werlin

Publisher: Speak
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: March 16th, 2010
Date finished: March 16, 2010

Impossible is a modern fairy tale, inspired by the Simon and Garfunkel song Scarborough Fair. Lucinda "Lucy" Scarborough has grown up with loving and supportive foster parents, ever since her mother became stark raving mad shortly after giving birth to her, only 18 years old. When she goes to prom, her date is sweet and attentive, and per her parents' request, sober all evening. Yet at the end of the night, he rapes Lucy, gets in his car and drives into a tree, dying as a result. Lucy is afraid to tell anyone that he looked as if he were possessed when he assaulted her.

Only her foster parents and Zach, the boy from down the street who's been around her whole life, but who now stays with them, knows the truth about what happened to her on prom night. About a month after prom, it becomes obvious that Lucy is pregnant, even though she took the morning-after pill. Zach finds her mother's journal, written in the months before Lucy was born, and it seems to support what Lucy's foster parents always said, that Miranda (Lucy's mother) was not crazy before she gave birth. Miranda writes about a curse. She says that all the Scarborough girls are cursed. They get pregnant and give birth to daughters when they are 18, and unless they manage to break the curse, they go mad when the baby is born. All because long in the past, a girl named Fenella Scarborough rejected an Elfin Knight.

Miranda taught Lucy's foster parents a special version of Scarborough Fair, completely different from the Simon and Garfunkel song. Recalling an incident from her childhood, Lucy opens a hidden panel in her bookshelf, and finds a letter from her mother, outlining the curse, and how to break it. Lucy and Zach want to believe that Miranda was already mad when she wrote the letter to her unborn child, but once some research reveals that at least four generations of Scarborough women all gave birth at age 18, and then went insane, it seems like her story is scarily plausible.

To break the curse, Lucy will have to complete three tasks. She has to create a shirt with no seam, using no needle. She has to find an acre of land between the sea and the land, and plow it using only a goat's horn, then seed the whole acre with just one grain of corn. Unless she does this before her child is born, she is doomed to madness like all the Scarborough women before her. Soledad, Lucy's foster mother, remembers Miranda asking her about how one would go about making the shirt. While the entire family are convinced it's a little crazy, they throw themselves into the task of solving the riddles and completing the tasks to save Lucy and her baby. But the Elfin Knight does not play a fair game, and tries to throw obstacles in their way. In the end, only true love will save Lucy.

Impossible is a very well written book, and the story unfurls gradually, revealing to Lucy that her tragically insane mother that appears in her life at inconvenient moments is only trying to protect her and give her the chance no one else in their long line of doomed ancestors has had. In her journal and letters to the unborn Lucy, she has tried to put as much advice as she can, desperately hoping that the family curse be broken. Lucy has a limited time to deal with her magical tasks, as well as having to cope with a teen pregnancy resulting from rape.

Lucy is a sensible and pragmatic girl, who really doesn't want to believe what is happening to her until the evidence is irrefutable. She is a very engaging protagonist, and faces up to both the mundane and the supernatural challenges in a very believable way. She has the support and help of her very likable foster parents, her best friend from school, and most importantly, Zach. He initially blames himself for what happened to her at prom, as he had promised her parents to pick her up, but arrived just a little bit too late. Later, he realizes there would have been nothing he could have done to prevent her getting pregnant, but is determined to do everything he can to be there for Lucy during her pregnancy and beyond.

The plot's suspense increases gradually, as the end of Lucy's pregnancy nears its end. The fact that the sinister Elfin Knight makes his appearance occasionally, and that he has insinuated himself into her family's life without them knowing his true identity also adds to the tension. While not the best "evil faerie" story I have read, it was compelling enough that I finished it in one day, and put aside pretty much everything I needed to do so I could read it.

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