The Impossible Girl
I loved The Impossible Girl. The setting is expertly laid out, detailed and realistic, and the characters are relatable and likable. It was everything you want when you pick up a young adult read; a level-headed and intelligent young woman as the female lead, and a strong but subtle romance to swoon over.
Calling Cora Lee an enterprising young woman is to say the least. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and an anonymous immigrant – neither of whom she ever meets – Cora Lee has made a life for herself as one of the premier resurrectionists in Manhattan, keeping tabs on the list of the island’s most interesting people with the most abnormal maladies. The irony is, Cora Lee has been keeping her own malady a secret; she’s the rumoured girl with two hearts.
Her mother, who cast out by her family when her pregnancy was revealed, dies in childbirth and Cora is left to the care of her aunt, her aunt’s lover and their maid. The doctor who comes to examine the infant instantly latches onto a second pulsation in her stomach, callously telling Cora’s aunt that the baby won’t live long and he’ll be back to buy her corpse to study the rare malady. In an attempt to save Cora Lee’s life by discrediting the claims of the doctor, her aunt decides that they’ll raise her as a boy until the rumors have subsided and they can move out of Brooklyn.
As a young woman, Cora lives in Manhattan and is able to mingle with high-society, using her innate ability to schmooze with the best of them to gain the best intel and make all the connections a resurrectionist could need. But by night, Cora continues part of her life as Jacob Lee, the alter ego that was her disguise as for her entire childhood, and runs the gang of resurrectionists that exhumes and delivers the bodies to their recipients. Despite living what is essentially a double-life, Cora manages to keep everything running smoothly; she makes ends meet for her and her maid, she’s running the most successful resurrectionist business in Manhattan, and she’s able to keep tabs on those who might be after her two hearts. That is, of course, until she meets a handsome and charming young man while casing a new job, a new museum curator becomes aggressively interested in crafting a unique collection, and a series of murders begins to hit close to home.
The idea of a young woman with a mysterious malady and her job keeping track of those like her until they die may seem a little far-fetched, but Lydia Kang is not only a great writer, she’s also a practicing physician. The novel feels very realistically grounded in both time and place; Kang does an excellent job placing her characters and describing the differences in class that weigh so heavily on Cora Lee’s moves. The world in which medical students need and benefit from the work of resurrectionists like Cora, as well as the medical knowledge Cora and her colleagues have, seem very authentic.
The romance here is subtle, and the entire plot isn’t riding on it. There are no lusty scenes to knock your socks off, but hell, if there isn’t something spectacular about a love interest who sees through all the secrets, breaks down all of the carefully crafted walls, and apologizes when he knows he’s been a jerk. But I really liked how this story was about Cora, and Theo (her young man) is only a supporting character. She’s a character you want to follow the whole time without scanning pages to see how long before her love interest returns because you need the feels.
My only qualm with the book is how easily Cora seems to have been able to fool nearly everyone in her adult life into believing she is a pair of twins, a male and a female. Kang is sure to walk the reader through Cora’s elaborate transformation into Jacob at least once in the novel, detailing how expertly Cora hides away her more feminine features and makes herself appear more traditionally masculine, but it does seem like someone who might feel less than kind towards Cora and her success could have discovered her secret earlier.
I’d recommend The Impossible Girl highly. I know that in there is some steep competition out there when it comes to YA romances, but Lydia Kang’s writing is great and Cora Lee is not a character to soon be forgotten.