The Compulsive Reader: September Book of the Month: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September Book of the Month: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

September already! I can feel the weather getting cooler as I sit here typing this! Not to get too cheesy, but I've got the perfect book to warm up your cold days, and to perk up those monotonous school days!

I'm especially excited this month to have award winning author Nancy Werlin here at The Compulsive Reader to talk about her new book, Impossible. I asked her four questions about Impossible, and her answers were very good--long and thoughtful, so you have one to look forward to every Thursday. But first, a review:


For generations the Scarborough women have been doomed to live eighteen years in sanity, until the birth of their first and only daughter, and then continue the rest of their lives in madness. Their only hope in avoiding insanity is to solve three tasks laid out for them in the Ballad of Scarborough Fair. None of the women have ever come close to solving them.

Until Lucy. Unlike her ancestors, she possesses a loving foster family, and Zach, her childhood friend who has loved her from afar for years. When she finds herself seventeen and pregnant, her unconventional family will band together, with the aid of Lucy's mother's diary pages from before insanity overtook her, and find a way break their curse once and for all—Lucy's future, and those of her mother and unborn daughter, depend upon it.

The haunting and mysterious words of the Ballad of Scarborough Fair take on new meaning in Impossible as Lucy, a young, determined, and modern heroine is faced with insurmountable odds. Werlin's prose is wonderfully magnetic; a pervading mix of magic, romance, and apprehension. Suspense is skillfully built throughout the book, and is sure to make readers squirm in excitement. Further knowledge of Lucy's ancestors might have added some appeal and interest to the story, but the lack of information on them does not detract from the story in any way. Werlin proves not only to be a captivating writer in Impossible, but also a uniquely clever and sensitive one as well as this unusual, romantic, and enchanting novel unfolds.

Four Questions with Nancy Werlin

What came to you first, the characters or the song?

Over ten years ago, it occurred to me that the puzzle embedded in the ancient ballad Scarborough Fair might make the framework for a novel, but without characters, that thought took me nowhere. It was many years before the appropriate set of characters came to me (and of course, I didn't know if they ever would). But then that vital part of the process happened all in a rush during winter and spring, 2006. This was a time in my life when I needed to believe in love, in counteracting malevolence, and in healing, a need that had everything to do with writing IMPOSSIBLE.

The first character to come was Padraig Seeley, the Elfin Knight and the novel's antagonist. Next came Lucy Scarborough, the heroine. Then, one after another, Lucy's mother, Miranda -- her foster parents, Soledad and Leo Markowitz-- and finally, far from least, Zach Greenfield, the true love.

Lucy's friend Sarah was a late addition, but I always do like to give my main characters a friend, and I realized at some point that having a true love didn't change one whit Lucy's need for a true friend.

By the way, early on in my YA career, I remember being told the truisms that "your characters have to solve their problems alone" and "get rid of the parents." Almost all YA novels treat these precepts like gospel. But I knew from the start that in IMPOSSIBLE I was going to smash those rules (which had always troubled me) as comprehensively and deliberately as if I'd gone after them with an axe.

(An essay that I wrote for Booklist about this, in the late 1990s, is here: http://archive.ala.org/

But to return to your question -- the song inspired the characters, then, except for the quibble that MY version of the song (as distinct from the historic versions) came much later in the cycle, during the final draft in October 2007. I didn't have the specific verses until author and friend Franny Billingsley, bless her, who is talented for such things, helped me write the lyrics so that they actually would scan and could be sung.

Thanks, Nancy, and check back in with us next week to learn more about Lucy's ancestors!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review! I recently got this in the mail when I asked for Let It Snow (which was in the package too, lol; it's not like I asked for Let It Snow and got Impossible), and it looks really good. I can't wait to get to it, esp. after reading your review and Nancy's answer to the first question. Can't wait to read the rest!