This novel was inspired by and based upon the "Elfin Knight" version of the ballad "Scarborough Fair" (note: this is not the same version that Simon & Garfunkel sing, but their version will work as a reference point). We are introduced to Lucy Scarborough, a girl who is loved by her foster parents and perfectly willing to let the story of her mother's madness go uninvestigated. In fact, the only interactions Lucy has with her biological mother are rather disturbing: Miranda, Lucy's mother, finds her sporadically, sings her personal version of "Scarborough Fair," and tries to persuade her (sometimes rather violently) of the importance of the ballad's message. These encounters affect Lucy mostly through the potential for embarassment for herself and the pain they cause her foster mother, Soledad.
All this changes after Lucy's prom night because Lucy was raped. Despite precautions, Lucy is pregnant and faced with a completely different life than the one she had planned. Little does she know that her life will change in more than one way because of this pregnancy: Lucy's attacker was not, as everyone assumes, her prom date, Grey, but the sinister, more-than-slightly icky Padraig Seeley, and with Lucy's pregnancy, a family curse is set into motion:
From the sting of my curse she can never be free
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Unless she unravels my riddlings three
She will be a true love of mine
The rest of the novel centers on Lucy, her parents, and Zach, a good friend, trying to find a way to perform these tasks and stave off the madness that threatens Lucy.
I won't say much more about the plot because I don't want to ruin the suspense or surprise that builds throughout the rest of the novel. Werlin does an excellent job of conveying a sense of forboding as Lucy's pregnancy progresses; we feel the urgency of Lucy completing the tasks just as Lucy and her family do. Werlin builds this sense of forboding and tension especially well as Lucy approaches and performs the third task. In terms of writing and storytelling ability, this part of the book is the best. It is also in this part of the book that the folk tale/fairytale aspects of the story become most prominent. I was reminded of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight many times during my reading, and the similarities become most apparent and meaningful during the performing of the third task.
Perhaps the greatest strenght of this book is that it will appeal to a wide range of YA readers: it has a smattering of everything (suspense, horror, romance, fantasy), and Werlin moves the action of the story in such a way that the reader is hooked early and wants to keep reading. The characters are not the deepest or most fully developed, but the strength and beauty of many passages more than make up for this. This is not a pat, formula novel, and the many unexpected developments kept the story fresh.
*I really love this cover; it is so evocative of the sense of the novel.