It's no wonder that Impossible by Nancy Werlin was a National Book Award finalist. This novel, a YA fantasy filled with suspense, romance, and real love on many levels, I found almost impossible to put down.
Plot summary: Lucy Scarborough, seventeen, is the beloved foster child of Soledad and Leo, best friends of Lucy's insane mother, Miranda, who comes around every once in a while acting strange and singing the ballad "Scarborough Fair." Discovering some completely lucid diary pages from Miranda's teen years in her room, left especially for her (and believably not discovered earlier), Lucy learns that Soledad and Leo had also opened their home to her mother as she awaited the birth of Lucy, and that the Scarborough women carry a terrible curse: For generations, each has been raped at the age of seventeen, given birth to a daughter at eighteen, and immediately thereafter gone mad. Because Lucy was raped by her prom date (and can't explain why she'd felt someone else had possessed his body at the time) and is already pregnant, the pages are more enlightening than traumatic -- though comparing this sane, caring Miranda with the insane character we see is traumatic enough. The curse can be broken, Miranda tells Lucy, if she can fulfill the three tasks given in the song: (1) make a shirt without any seam or needlework, (2) find an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand (water's edge), (3) plow the acre with nothing but a goat's horn and sow it all over with one grain of corn. If Lucy does not succeed in all three tasks before her child's birth, she'll become the captive of an evil, magical elfin creature, just as every woman before her since the untrue Fenella Scarborough spurned his love untold generations ago.
Of course, Lucy does succeed, and her solutions are so satisfying because they're both ingenious and accessible. In fact, I was able to figure out #3b (the one grain of corn) well before the end, and make a decent stab at #1. One thing I love about this book is the research the characters do. Genealogical research, for example, to prove whether the known facts of the Scarborough women's lives show insanity in each generation. They study everything out, yet aren't afraid to believe supernatural elements are at work. Though not without facing obstacles, one by one they learn all they can about each task and figure out how to accomplish it. And with #3, as we might guess, Lucy must race the Stork to the finish.
But the main subject of this book is love. Lucy succeeds, in more ways than one, because of the veritable army of love behind her. Soledad and Leo; her best friend, Sarah; the young man who loves and marries her, Zach; even Miranda; do all that they can and more to love her, stand up for her, help her, and in Zach's case, reassure her that her baby will have not only Soledad and Leo but a father and seventeen more years to get the tasks right if the worst happens to Lucy. Despite the horrendous problems the characters face, readers will hardly be able to help longing to be a part of such a selfless yet real group of people. Lucy's flat refusal to consider abortion is believably motivated; Miranda did not take that way out and neither will she. Even the boy who raped her and promptly died in a car accident is forgiven, as Lucy realizes that for every Scarborough woman who was ruined, an innocent young man was also possessed and then destroyed.
Only one plot point gave me pause, and it occurs at the end. This is a definite SPOILER alert. Close to finishing the plowing and sowing task, in horrible weather, well into labor and with the tide rolling in, Lucy is visited by the creature she knows as "The Elfin Knight." He almost charms her into quitting by telling her that if she goes with him, Zach and her baby will be safe. Lucy even drops the plow momentarily before picking it up and continuing on. Later, having returned to Zach and given birth, she is again visited by the Elfin Knight who entices her to accompany him because of the bargain she made. What I don't buy is that Lucy truly believes she made a bargain. She never agreed to anything. This attempt to keep Lucy's victory up in the air till the very end doesn't work, in my view. The Elfin Knight's ploy is too obviously just that, and as Zach declares, "The curse is broken. And there is no new bargain. If that weren't true, you wouldn't be here trying to convince Lucy to come willingly." Even so -- to the extent that the Elfin Knight is betting that Lucy will interpret her temptation to give in as the actual deed, this plot point does make some sense and illustrates another theme: Temptation isn't the same as doing the deed, and intentions aren't as important as actions. Impossible is one fantastic read.