Phoebe Rothschild is a slightly awkward girl, friends with the popular girls but not sure she wants to be, confident in her family—especially her millionaire super-successful mother—but not always in herself. You might go so far as to call her ordinary. Still, it takes courage to dump your clique and befriend the new, awkward girl in school, who’s wearing all the wrong clothes and projecting an attitude of pride and disdain—and that’s what Phoebe does.

Several years later, Mallory’s brother appears in Phoebe’s life, just as unexpectedly as Mallory had. And Ryland not only pushes Phobe and Mallory apart, he causes Phoebe to question everything—her world, her sanity, herself.

It’s fantasy, by the way. Interspersed with chapters of Phoebe’s life in Boston are conversations with the faerie queen, and eventually excursions into the realm of Faerie. The conversations are stilted and initially distracting, couched in formal language, a sharp contrast with the smooth, captivating writing of the real-world narration. Still, they serve a purpose: we need to know that all is not right in the realm of faerie.

The core of the book is Phoebe’s relationship with Ryland. The destructive, emotionally abusive relationship. It is plausible, realistic, and sickening as he takes this young woman and tears her down, bit by bit. Ryland is hateful, but the conversations with his queen remind us that he is doing this because he thinks it is necessary. That doesn’t soften the blow of his manipulation and abuse, but it muddies the waters and in many ways makes the book harder to read: we can’t just dismiss Ryland as unadulterated evil.

There’s family history at work, too, in the way characters must deal with our legacies: inherited money, taught beliefs, ancestral support and demands. Phoebe is Jewish—of the secular, not-particularly-theistic variety—and her relationship with her Judaism is dealt with quite well: rarely on her mind, but deeply important when it comes up.

____________________
Extraordinary ~ Nancy Werlin
My review of Nancy Werlin’s Impossible

Advertisements

impossible nancy werlinHave you ever really listened to the lyrics of Scarborough Fair? Even in the Simon and Garfunkel version, they’re a little bit creepy – asking a woman to do a series of impossible tasks to become a man’s true love. The version Werlin uses (one she crafted for the novel, though there are some recorded versions that are much closer to hers than to S&G) is much creepier – the woman has rejected the man (elfin knight) and must perform these three impossible tasks to avoid becoming his, and her daughters after her. And it’s a curse and a lesson for the Scarborough women, passed from mother to daughter as each gets pregnant at seventeen and goes insane just after her daughter is born. And so it has gone for hundreds of years, dozens of women, and now Lucy finds herself pregnant after being raped at the prom.

I spent most of the book wanting to hug her family – her foster parents and her childhood best friend. They did everything right. They hugged her when she needed hugs, they presented her options – including abortion – and offered their advice, but accepted it when Lucy disagreed. They took an unreal situation and developed a very real plan to solve it, simply because that’s what Lucy needed them to do. The Elfin Knight himself is seriously overdone, but he actually gets fairly little page-time, and otherwise the medieval curse and its resolution are woven seamlessly into Lucy’s twenty-first century issues as she struggles to deal with the rape, her pregnancy, school, etc, etc. The solutions she and her family find are creative but make sense. In the places it really matters, it’s really good.

So the Elfin Prince is over the top. So there are a few passages of ridiculous sap and profundity syndrome. [minor spoiler] So I wanted there to be a Scarborough woman born free of the curse, and am not satisfied to see the name die with the curse [/minor spoiler]. So I can’t not nitpick a little. But it dealt with rape and teen pregnancy well, with a remarkable family. Perhaps most importantly, it presented Lucy’s story as Lucy: it doesn’t moralize and say that the decisions she makes would be right for anyone else, just that they’re the right decisions for her.

It’s a book that makes it worth having Scarborough Fair stuck in your head for three days. And trust me, you will.

____________________
Impossible ~ Nancy Werlin
My review of Nancy Werlin’s Extraordinary