Monday, April 27, 2009

maybe it's not impossible

(Some spoilers for Impossible ahead.)

Since it's still autism awareness month, I feel vaguely justified in writing this mostly personal post. I didn't try to work it into the review, but Impossible had some unexpected resonances for me. One of the oddest things about being the mother of my son is seeing so much of my own childhood replaying before my eyes--something I very much didn't expect, because our environments are so extremely different. I was very happy to be able to give him everything I didn't have -- stable home, two loving parents, security, material comforts. And sometimes it just kills me that it doesn't seem to make any difference. He is still so anxious, so much an outsider, so often unhappy. Nature trumps nurture.

But -- that's not entirely true. My autistic son can express himself verbally better than I ever could. (Another friend, whose son is not autistic but has had lots of interventions for emotional problems, notes the same thing - they do learn from all the therapy they get.) He has inner resources -- not enough yet, but a start. Although he is very unhappy about his physical development compared to other children, he has an enjoyment of physical activities and his body's abilities that I have been cut off from for most of my life. Every time I see him hanging from one leg on his chin-up bar or hear that he got to the top of the climbing wall, I feel triumphant. Take that, obnoxious PE teachers who try to force all kids at the same pace!

When I first read Impossible, I was a little disappointed in how the tasks were completed. It seemed too easy, a little too mundane. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the "how" of the tasks were completed was not the important part of the story at all. It was the willingness to even try, to give your all, to keep going no matter how futile it seemed. And having the right supports can make all the difference in someone's ability to do that.

Here's hoping.

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review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Impossible by Nancy Werlin. Dial, 2008 (978-0-8037-3002-1)$17.99

It can never be easy having an insane bag lady for a mother, but thanks to loving foster parents from birth and good friends, it hasn't seriously touched seventeen-year-old Lucy Scarborough's life. She has grown up stable and strong, a determined athlete on her way to college. Then on the night of her prom, bizarre, terrifying events change Lucy's world forever, introducing her to an ancient, supernatural evil that she discovers has been devastating her biological family line for generations.

Unless she can complete impossible tasks that no other Scarborough woman has ever been able to perform, Lucy is cursed to end up like them, completely insane after giving birth to a daughter at age 18, a daughter who will in turn go on to suffer the same fate. But Lucy has advantages none of her ancestors had: her foster parents, the growing love of her oldest friend Zach, technology and Ebay -- and her own powerful will.

Inspired by the Child Ballad commonly known now as "Scarborough Fair" but also called "the Elfin Knight," Impossible is a very accessible blend of the realistic and the fantastic, with the seductively evil elements creeping into the story slowly and plausibly. It's not as rich in language or world-building as some YA excursions into the fairy realm, and as it straddles the boundaries of, as Zach thinks of it, "the real world" and "the surreal world of Lucy's family curse," the balance, or perhaps the pace, occasionally seems a little off. But the tension between the steadily growing warmth of Lucy and Zach's love for each other and the possible outcome--even worse, Lucy learns, than she originally feared--creates a deep, anxious involvement in the story's outcome. They are such tender, lovable characters, whose unusual strength and maturity make it possible to believe their young love story could have a happy ending beyond the breaking of the curse--a scenario which in our society might seem almost as impossible as making a seamless shirt with no needles. (14 & up)

© 2009 Wendy E. Betts

Other blog reviews (it may not matter in a book from last year, but for those who don't (or do) like spoilers, these give considerably more plot detail that I did):
In the Booley House
Everyday Reading
Picks of the Week

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