Impossible by Nancy Werlin is a great piece of YA fiction. Based on the folk song “Scarborough Fair,” Werlin’s altered version tells of a family of successive daughters, each cursed in her generation, to become pregnant by eighteen, go crazy, and be used as an evil demon elf’s sex toy for the remainder of their lives (or until the next daughter goes crazy. This last one is unclear.). Lucy Scarborough becomes the latest victim of the curse when she is raped on her prom night. Together with her foster parents and friend-turned-fiance, she finds a way to break the curse and free her family. Werln’s work touches on difficult subjects, such as rape and teen pregnancy. Some adult readers may feel that she deals with these issues superficially, but since they were not the main focus of the story, I felt that she addressed them in a manner appropriate to the genre. Personally, I didn’t like how Lucy fulfilled the terms of the curse in order to break it. I wanted her to outsmart the fiend and show how he had no power over her to begin with, that he had genuinely wronged them all and owed her family restitution. Laying that aside, I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I read this as part of my book club, and it engendered quite a bit of conversation. Even readers who enjoyed the book didn’t enjoy all of it. Also, we couldn’t really seem to agree what the story was supposed to be about. The saddest criticism, though, was that the story was too unbelievable because “no one believes in true love” (or words to that effect.). But I do. I am almost thirty years old, and I believe in true love. I also believe that the reality and power of love is a major theme of this novel, so I’d like to talk about a little longer.
Now, I think what this person meant was that it is unrealistic for little girls to expect Prince Charming to sweep into their lives and whisk them away from their problems and into a world of fat 401Ks, luxury cars, undying attention, and whatever else their hearts desire. Ok. Granted. But that’s not what happens in this novel, and that’s not what she said. She referred to it as true love, and as a fairytale. What I described above is not true love, it’s a retirement plan.
Talking about this online with another friend of mine, I came to the realization that my personal theology is a relationship gospel. It’s all about love– God’s love for us, our love for each other, our love for God. It’s all one thing. And while I understand that there are different kinds of love– parental love, friendship love, erotic love, etc. — I think that each kind of human love we experience teaches us a piece of God’s infinite, eternal, and unconditional love (for more on this, check out C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves). Even if humans are incapable of loving perfectly in a fallen world, I don’t think that means love is impossible. And if I gave up on the idea of true love, that would be me giving up on the idea of God. Furthermore, my husband really did appear in my life out of nowhere. He definitely saved me from my own loneliness, among other things. And as it turned out, I was saving him, too. I tried to bring this up with the group, but no one seemed interested in either agreeing or disagreeing, and the discussion moved on to other things. It rankles, though. Love is real. Love matters.
I believe that love plays an equally important role in the context of this novel. The first Scarborough woman (Fenella – aren’t you glad that isn’t your name?) was cursed because she refused the advances of the elfin knight. The elfin knight had this idea that love was about possessing someone or using someone as a way to signify status (a sadly familiar misconception). This possessive love is itself the curse. What breaks it is the true love Lucy and Zach have for each other. Instead of possession or objectification, their love consists of service nd respect. They work together on problems. Similarly, the love Lucy’s foster parents have for her is also grounded in willing sacrifice and respect.
One criticism some readers have is that this book doesn’t deal thoroughly enough with important things. Related to that, one person complained that she didn’t learn anything from this book. Another member of my group book asked (genuinely), “Is it possible for a book to be serious literary fiction and fantasy? And YA?” I think the answer to all of these comments is in the theme of the novel. This novel isn’t about teen pregnancy, it’s about love. It isn’t about rape, it’s about love. If you don’t believe in the everyday reality of love, then you’re not going to understand, much less enjoy, this novel. And I can’t think of a more serious theme than love. Impossible may have its faults, but superficiality and lack of gravity aren’t included. It seems that the impossibility in this novel isn’t breaking the curse, it’s believing that true love really does conquer all.