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by Nancy Werlin

Published: 2009-08-11
Paperback : 384 pages
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A beautifully wrought modern fairy tale from master storyteller and award-winning author Nancy Werlin.

Inspired by the classic folk ballad ?Scarborough Fair,? this is a wonderfully riveting and haunting novel of suspense, romance, and fantasy. Lucy is seventeen when she discovers that she ...

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A beautifully wrought modern fairy tale from master storyteller and award-winning author Nancy Werlin.

Inspired by the classic folk ballad ?Scarborough Fair,? this is a wonderfully riveting and haunting novel of suspense, romance, and fantasy. Lucy is seventeen when she discovers that she is the latest recipient of a generations-old family curse that requires her to complete three seemingly impossible tasks or risk falling into madness and passing the curse on to the next generation. Unlike her ancestors, though, Lucy has family, friends, and other modern resources to help her out. But will it be enough to conquer this age-old evil?

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Chapter 1

Ten minutes after the last class of the day, Lucy got a text message from her best friend, Sarah Hebert. “Need u,” it said.

“2 mins,” Lucy texted back. She sighed. Then she hefted her backpack and headed to the girls’ locker room, where, she knew, Sarah would be. Nothing and nobody, not even Jeff Mundy, got in the way of track practice.

Because of course this problem of Sarah’s would be about Jeff. Lucy had seen him at lunch period, leaning flirtatiously over an adorable freshman girl. Maybe this time Sarah would have had it with him for good. Lucy hoped so.

But still, it was delicate. And it wasn’t like Lucy had a lot of experience to guide her friend with. Or any, really, if you didn’t count Gray Spencer, which you couldn’t, not yet, anyway. No, she didn’t have experience, Lucy thought fiercely, but she did have years of understanding about who, exactly, Sarah was and what made her happy. And also, frankly, some basic common sense.

Which Sarah had totally lost.

Lucy found Sarah already changed and sitting on a bench by Lucy’s locker. “Are you all right?” Lucy asked.

“Yeah. It’s just—it’s not Jeff, it’s me. I’m the one with the problem.” Sarah made a little motion with her hand. “But now we have to go to practice.”

Lucy put an arm around her and squeezed. “There’ll be plenty of time to talk later if you want.”

Sarah nodded and tried to smile.

Lucy turned to change. Then they walked out together toward the school’s track, moving to the infield to stretch. Lucy’s practice routine as a hurdler was different from Sarah’s distance training, but they always did as much together as they could.

When they were side by side doing leg stretches, Sarah was finally able to talk. Lucy listened patiently to all of it, even the parts she’d heard many times before. But when Sarah said, “We both agreed from the start that we weren’t serious and Jeff’s right that it truly is my problem that I’m so jealous, not his, because he’s not doing anything wrong,” Lucy couldn’t help herself. She cut in.

“Sarah, please. It’s not a problem that you want something more serious than Jeff does. There’s nothing wrong with you that you want that! And there’s also nothing wrong that he doesn’t. Can’t you see? It’s just that you’re fundamentally incompatible. You should just say so and move on.”

“But I don’t want to move on! He’s such fun and so smart and good-looking and I just love him and if I could only control the way I feel when—”

“Then be his friend. But that’s it. For more, look around for somebody who’s not going to hurt you all the time. Even if Jeff doesn’t mean to hurt you, it’s still pain, right?” Lucy grabbed one foot, and, standing on the other leg, pulled the foot behind her to stretch her quad muscles. She decided not to say that Jeff knew perfectly well he was hurting Sarah, and didn’t care, so long as he got to do what he wanted to do, which included being with Sarah whenever he felt like it.

Sarah was silent for a minute, concentrating on her own quad stretch. Then she said, “Lucy, I don’t think you understand. I can’t really control how I feel. I can’t just look around for somebody else. I want what I want. Who I want.”

Lucy switched legs. She chose her words carefully. “But this is hurting you so much. It can’t be right.”

“Love hurts,” said Sarah simply. “That’s okay. It’s supposed to.”

“I don’t believe it,” Lucy said. “Look at Soledad and Leo.”

“People who’ve been married umpteen years like your foster parents are different,” said Sarah impatiently. “When you first fall in love, it’s supposed to be awful. Awful, uncertain, scary, wonderful, confusing, all at once. That’s how you know it’s real. You have to care deeply. Passionately. That hurts.”

Lucy got down on the ground, stretched her legs to each side, and began pressing her head and torso out to the left. “I don’t know.” As she switched to the right side, she found that Sarah had gotten down too, and was looking her in the face from three inches away.

“Lucy, look. You can’t just make a list of what qualities would be compatible for you and pick somebody based on that. You have to, well, consult your heart. And if love doesn’t hurt sometimes, well, then.” Sarah actually put a hand over her heart. “Then maybe you don’t truly care.”

“Oh, please!” Lucy sat up. “Can’t you consult both your heart and your head? Shouldn’t they be in agreement? And, also, I’m telling you, I continue to not like the pain thing. Continued pain is a signal to the body that there’s something wrong, not right.”

“But we’re talking about the heart, not the body.”

“Why should that be different? Pain is to be avoided.”

At this, Sarah laughed. “Really? That’s your philosophy? Tell me that after practice today.”

Lucy went to the left on her stretch again. “I don’t like interval training! I just do it. Anyway, that’s not the same kind of pain, and you know it.”

It was good to hear Sarah laugh, she thought, even though she knew that the abrupt change of subject meant that Sarah was done, wanted no more advice, and would, no doubt, go right on breaking her heart over Jeff Mundy.

Well, all right. Lucy had said what she had to say. And she would say it again if and when she was asked.

Or possibly even if she wasn’t asked.

Sarah, who was done with her stretching, stood up. “Listen, Lucy. Now that you’ve got this kind-of-sort-of-maybe dating thing about to happen with Gray Spencer, with the prom and all, I’m thinking that pretty soon you’ll start to see what I’m talking about.”

Lucy snorted. “I like Gray, but hello? Were you listening to me at all? About pain?”

“If you’re expecting a walk in the park—”

They were interrupted by the coach calling the track team around and assigning them their workouts. “Call me later,” Sarah said. Lucy nodded, and Sarah went off on her run. Lucy and the other two hurdlers began doing drills with tightly spaced hurdles, practicing alternating their lead legs.

Lucy worked out hard. She always did; it was her strongest point as an athlete. She was good, but she didn’t have any truly extraordinary level of talent, and she knew it. What she did have was will and determination. And next year, if she kept it up and was lucky, she thought she might have a shot at going to states and maybe also at some college scholarship money, which would be a big help to her foster parents. That was her real goal. Even though her parents had told her not to worry about college costs, that they would figure it out, she wanted to help all she could. Wonderful as they were, and loved as Lucy had always felt, she never lost a certain consciousness that she was indebted to them. She tried her best to be perfect for Soledad and Leo Markowitz.

Here it was really no problem, though. She loved hurdling. When it went well, when she got her striding length and her pace and her hurdles just right, there was nothing like it. Nothing like how competent and powerful and whole it made her feel.

Lucy didn’t know exactly what made her lose her focus during that practice. A prickly feeling on the back of her neck? The creeping conviction that she was being watched?

But suddenly she lost her rhythm and messed up her hurdle. She landed hard on the track on one knee, with the hurdle coming down beside her. And she looked up to see her mother. Not her foster mother, Soledad, but her real mother, Miranda.

It was unmistakably her.

Miranda had materialized on the other side of the track, right near the bleachers. She was wearing a thin purple gauze skirt and a red T-shirt that was far too big for her. She was pushing a supermarket shopping cart that was laden with returnable plastic and glass bottles and other trash.

“Lucy, you okay?” It was Sindy Gillespie, the best hurdler on the team, helping Lucy up.

“Sure.” Lucy got up slowly, trying to figure out what to do. What was right? Should she interrupt practice and go try to talk to Miranda? Or would that be the same exercise in futility it had always been?

Miranda had never come to Lucy’s school before. Always, in the past, on those rare occasions she showed up, she had come to Soledad and Leo’s house, and caused the entire family endless grief and anguish.

Sindy Gillespie was following Lucy’s gaze. Miranda had stopped walking now and was staring right at Lucy with her big, brown—and quite insane—eyes.

“Have you seen that crazy bag lady before?” Sindy asked Lucy. “I have. I saw her yesterday just outside the cafeteria. She was going through the trash and eating stuff. And she was singing! Poor thing, but still, ick.”

“No,” Lucy lied. “I’ve never seen her before.” She immediately felt guilty. And she felt a little stir of curiosity too. “What was she singing, Sindy?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh.” Lucy bit her lip, containing her impulse to sing a few bars of a particular song and ask if that was it. But she knew it was. Miranda had been singing one song, a version of an old folk ballad, every time she showed up in Lucy’s life. Lucy was sick of it.

But the ballad still haunted her. Twined itself unexpectedly in her mind and inner ear, which was where it was now.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Remember me to one who lives there

She must be a true love of mine.

As Lucy and Sindy watched, Miranda parked her cart and sat down on the bottom bleacher. She pulled her legs up before her, under her skirt, and sat with her thin, muscular arms tightly corded around them. Her lips moved, though no sound came out.

“She’s looking right at us!” said Sindy. “And I think she’s singing again too.”

“I know,” said Lucy tersely. “Let’s ignore her.”

“Yeah. We need to get back to it anyway. Are you going to do another one?”

“Okay,” said Lucy.

What would Sindy think, Lucy thought, if she excused herself and went over? Or what if she said: “I do know her. That’s my mother.”

But she didn’t. Instead, she continued to practice, if badly. It wasn’t just Miranda’s gaze. The rhythm of the song in her inner ear also interfered with the rhythm of Lucy’s strides, and she couldn’t get it right.

When practice ended and she finally looked again, Miranda was gone. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

Compare the novel’s version of the song “Scarborough Fair” with several
traditional and modern versions. How are they similar to the novel’s
version? What are the significant changes to the song in Impossible? Do
you know of other old ballads or stories that involve puzzles or riddles?
• One of the central themes of Impossible is true love. In your opinion, how
should a person who loves “truly” behave? Can true love be instantaneous,
or must it be proven by time and tests? How does Zach prove his love?
How does Lucy? In what ways do you think the examples of their parents’
marriages were helpful to Zach and Lucy?
• Discuss the different attitudes about love that Lucy and Sarah express at
the beginning of the book. How have their attitudes changed by the end
and what experiences have shaped those changes?
• What are the clues in the book that let the reader know Zach no longer sees
Lucy as just a friend or family member? What are the clues that tell you
how Lucy feels about Zach?
• What kinds of love are there besides romantic love? Can you find examples
in Impossible? How do these different kinds of love help Lucy to accomplish
her goals? Would she be able to succeed without those who love her?
• Lucy has two mothers: Soledad and Miranda. How do these very different
women act as mothers to her? How does Lucy’s attitude toward Miranda
alter by the end of the book? Can you identify the points in the book’s plot
where her attitude shifts, and why it does? Do you think that one is more
of a “real” mother to Lucy than the other? Explain your reasoning.
• Discuss Lucy’s friendship with Sarah. At one point, Lucy says that Sarah
has surprised her and that she had underestimated her. Have you ever
undervalued a friend? What are the characteristics of true friendship?
• When we first meet Padraig Seeley, he is described as “magnetic.” Why
does Padraig have such an irresistible effect on the people around him?
Do you think that people really can have that kind of influence over
others? Who was affected by Padraig’s charisma? Who was not? Why?
Lucy’s dog Pierre seems to dislike Padraig from the very beginning. What
clues did that give you about Padraig? Do you believe that animals like
dogs are really able to sense some things that people can’t, or is this just
a literary device used to make a point?
• Padraig always calls Lucy by her full name, Lucinda. In many traditional
tales about fairies, a person who knows someone’s real name has power
over them. Why do you think this is so? How does Lucy feel about her full
name? How does this affect what happens in the story?
• How else does naming figure into the novel? Are the meanings of names
in the novel important to the plot? Whose names are significant and how?
• Miranda tells Lucy she would be better off if she were an ugly girl and
expected less from life. What do you think she meant by that? Do you think
Lucy’s life would be better if she were unattractive and expected little?
What would change and what would remain the same?
• On prom night, Padraig acted in certain ways when he was at the
Markowitz home, which were described for the reader, but did other
things covertly, which the reader learns about indirectly. Discuss Padraig’s
public and hidden actions and describe their effects. What was Padraig’s
influence on Gray, before, during, and after the prom?
• Discuss how you would have approached the three impossible tasks.
Can you think of alternate strategies that might have worked?
• Put yourself in Lucy’s and Zach’s places as they faced an acre of land that
had to be plowed and sown in freezing sleet. How impossible does the task
seem? Try doing the math and calculate how many feet per minute Lucy
must plow in order to complete the task in time. Consider the size of an
acre, the length of each row, how far apart each row of corn should be, and
the amount of time between the tides in the real Bay of Fundy.
• Speculate on what might happen after the end of the book with the
Markowitzes, the Greenfields, the Spencers, Sarah, and some of the other
major characters in the book. Do you believe in “happily ever after?”
• What parts of Impossible are more like a fairy tale and what parts of the
story are realistic? Is there any overlap between what is realistic and what
is fantastical?
• One of the central themes of Impossible is true love. In your opinion, how should a person who loves "truly" behave? Can true love be instantaneous, or must it be proven by time and tests? How does Zach prove his love? How does Lucy? In what ways do you think the examples of their parents' marriages were helpful to Zach and Lucy?
• Discuss Lucy's friendship with Sarah. At one point, Lucy says that Sarah has surprised her and that she had underestimated her. Have you ever undervalued a friend? What are the characteristics of true friendship?
• Discuss how you would have approached the three impossible tasks. Can you think of alternate strategies that might have worked?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A note from the author:

IMPOSSIBLE was inspired by the ballad Scarborough Fair. I loved the Simon & Garfunkel version as a teenager, but when I heard it again one day as an adult, I was struck by the lyrics. The man, singing, makes one impossible demand after another of the woman, and if she doesn't do as he says, she's "no true love" of his! I thought: There’s no way that woman can prove herself to that man; he’s already made up his mind. Did she do him wrong? What’s the story?

Could I construct a puzzle-type novel around the lyrics? Suppose, for some unknown reason, a girl has to prove her love by actually performing the three tasks. I’d use a modern setting, I planned, and I’d have her figure it out using technology. Surprise him. He’s wrong, it turns out. She does understand true love. She can prove it.

But I couldn’t quite imagine the situation under which the puzzle-solving would occur. The characters, the plot, the impetus, the urgency? Love was clearly involved, somehow, but I just didn’t know enough.

It took more than ten years for me to figure it out.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Fun, fast read"by riegerd (see profile) 03/07/11

I read this book in one day. It was quick, easy and interesting. Definitely a good one. I thought it would appeal to the Twilight or Shiver young adult group.

  "Interesting/easy read"by mylife580 (see profile) 09/28/10

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