Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

by Nancy Werlin

Imagine if the lyrics to a popular song were not merely poetic words set to music, but a list of tasks one must complete or risk going mad. This is the main premise of Werlin's book Impossible in which seventeen year old Lucy Scarborough, a perfectly rational girl, is told that she must complete the impossible tasks described in a version of the ballad "Scarborough Fair" before giving birth to her child (I should mention here that at the beginning of the novel she has no boyfriend and is a virgin). Having been raised by foster parents after her biological mother became mentally ill and took to a life in the streets, when Lucy first learns of the ballad and the tasks, she dismisses it as nonsense. However, after a bizarre turn of events on prom night leads to Lucy's becoming pregnant, she begins to reconsider, and, ultimately, pursues the accomplishment of the tasks after learning that all of her family records indicate that generations of women in her family have given birth at seventeen and descended into madness.

When I first read the premise, I found myself thinking it sounded a bit far-fetched, but Werlin tells it as a modern fairy tale, and I found myself completely immersed within the first few chapters. The characters are also all very likable, so it was easy for me to invest myself in them and their plight; I wanted them very much to succeed. And just as much as Lucy and her family are likable, the antagonist, Padraig Seeley is just as detestable. He is exactly as Sidhean in the previously reviewed Ash should have been: calculating, cold, and merciless.

Something I found particularly refreshing was that despite the presence of magic, curses, and the faerie realm, the mundane characters did not rely on magic, but rather science and logic to break Padraig's curse. Additionally, this helped to reinforce the modern setting of the novel, replete with medical records and a healthy dose of skepticism.

My only complaint is that some of the events, especially the ending, are a bit too neat for my liking. The presence of the boy-next-door, Zach, is all too convenient for the necessary romance of the novel, and as much as I (and probably most of the novel's target audience) like him, I seriously have to question how quickly he and Lucy not only realized their feelings for each other, but acted upon them. For a novel that otherwise asked its audience to be rational, I found this to be a bit off-base.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

by Justine Larbalestier

Let me start by stating this is not the type of book I would normally enjoy. Written in colloquial speech (here an inner-city teen) and presented as a direct confession to the reader, the writing is far from the eloquent prose that I am accustomed to typically reading. However, the story is so well-constructed that I barely even noticed.

The premise is quite simple: Micah, our narrator/confessor, has been accused of murdering Zach, the most popular boy in school. At first, we are told that they were only classmates, but over time it is revealed that not only were they friends, but they also shared a secret love affair, though Micah consistently denies this when pressed by her parents, counselors, and Zach's girlfriend, Sarah. We, the readers, are the only ones meant to know the entire truth, which is given to us in snippets, as the narrative goes back and forth from before and after the murder.

Things are not entirely clear-cut, however, as we're told from the beginning that Micah is known for her lies. On her first day of high school, she claims to be a boy, and when it is discovered that she is a girl, she says instead that she is intersex. She also tells her classmates that her father is an arms dealer, among other things. Knowing her character, it becomes difficult for the reader to believe her story, especially as it becomes increasingly far-fetched. I won't say much about what is revealed later, though I will state that it involves the supernatural.

By the end of the book, I was entirely unsure what to believe. Was Micah simply spinning an elaborate lie? Or did all of this really happen, regardless of how fantastic it might seem? I believe this uncertainty is a testament to Larbalestier's ability to create a truly unreliable narrator, which she succeeded in so doing brilliantly, and it is for that reason alone that I must recommend this book.

Grade: A-