The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson Book Review


For the past five years, Haley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both.  They moved back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war threaten to destroy their lives.  Haley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons.  And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart.

How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him?  What are you supposed to do when your parent stops acting like an adult?  And what happens if a sweet guy who can make you laugh barges his way into your world and for the first time, you find yourself thinking about the future?

Timely, compelling, surprising-this is Laurie Halse Anderson at her best.

I have a small confession to make… I have never read a Laurie Halse Anderson book before, and I am smacking my hand on my forehead right now for waiting this long.  While I love my cutesy contemporaries, I also really love when books discuss darker subjects, because it adds a certain layer of depth to the novel.  This review will be spoiler free and from now on I have decided to keep my reviews spoiler free unless the book is one of the last books in a series or unless there is one plot twist which changes the whole story.

The Impossible Knife of Memory follows Haley, a seventeen year old girl who has traveled cross country with her father, Andy, a war veteran, in their attempt to silence their inner demons.  Although Andy has turned to drugs and alcohol to escape his pain, he decides to be a ‘responsible’ father, and settles down at his hometown to give Haley the chance to finish her senior year in high school and apply to colleges.  Haley loved her life on the road because it enabled her to narrowly forsake her memories, therefore, when she settles in town and is not constantly moving, the shadows get darker and seem to be slowly suffocating her.  Despite Haley’s attempts to remain an outsider, she meets Finn, and when he pushes himself into her life, she cannot help but fall victim to the glimpses of hope that encapsulate a promising future.

It was heart shattering reading about Haley and Andy’s destructive relationship.  While they both unconditionally love each other, their relationship turns dangerous because they stand over life’s edge: waiting to fall, but wanting to fly.  Haley is doing her best to keep her father afloat, but how can she help him when the quicksand is rising, and the sand particles are scratching her throat preventing her shrieks from escaping her chest. When she returns home from school every day she does not think about homework or boys like most teenage girls, but rather, she fears that she will find her dad dead, or in a drunken state which makes her wonder if physically living truly means being alive.  Throughout Haley’s experiences Laurie Halse Anderson includes Andy’s memories of the  War, and I most strongly commend Anderson for this because of her brutal realism of PTSD.  Andy’s situation causes Haley to adopt a cynical view on life, however, I did not condemn this as a hamartia like in other literary characters because I could see where her dark views were coming from.

As illustrated by Haley and Andy’s relationship, this book often drifts into a dreary and sometimes depressing mood, thus Finn in my opinion was very necessary to bring light to the enveloping darkness.  However, I did not immediately love Finn, I actually thought he was really creepy and possessed stalker-ish qualities.  For example on his and Haley’s first date, he didn’t even ask Haley out, he just showed up at the football stadium that Haley was writing a news report on for the school paper (which he also made her do), and then he basically forced himself upon her.  As the story developed I did grow to love him because even though he was going through his own struggles at home he did for the most part remain steady for Haley and even stuck it out through her darker moments.

As breifly mentioned above, Haley is not the only teenager in her group of friends who faces family issues.  Her best friend Gracie’s life is being shredded by her parents’ divorce and constant fighting, and Finn’s family is unraveling because his parents continue financially supporting his older sister who abuses substanence.  Haley’s only friend with a relatively normal life is Gracie’s boyfriend, all of the others were enduring tramatic experiences.  Thus, on one hand I commend Laurie Halse Anderson for divulging all of the struggles and problems that some teenagers must face, but on the other hand I almost feel like she was trying to pack too much into this story.

Overall I really enjoyed this book beacuse of its  realism;  PTSD is not hidden under a curtain or distorted by a fog, it is illustrated in its purest and most untouched form, and I LOVED it.  I recommend it to EVERYONE and give it 5 out of 5 stars!


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