The Impossible Knife of Memory
Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Hayley isn’t happy being forced to complete her senior year at a traditional school; she’d rather still be traveling on the road with her father, a wounded veteran of of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he insisted on returning to his childhood home in upstate New York, and Hayley finds herself forced to do mundane, “zombie-like” things such as making friends and doing pre-calc homework.
Home, though, is a completely different story. Her father’s never quite gotten over his experiences in the war, and his PTSD seems to be getting worse. He’s never been good at keeping a job, but now he spends most of his days drinking or smoking weed he buys off a scuzzy dealer whose expressions Hayley distrusts. On top of that, there’s a boy who refuses to leave her alone about helping him with the newspaper. Don’t these high schoolers know how to take hints?
All she needs to do is make it to graduation. Hayley knows this. But as things keep swirling faster and darker down the drain, she’ll have to figure out how to help her father before it’s all too late.
So, Finnegan Ramos may have just taken top spot on my “YA Best Boyfriends” list. I mean, in fairness the list isn’t super-long, but there you have it. He’s an amazing boyfriend: witty, dependable, willing to look past the messy stuff to see the true beauty within, doesn’t stare at his girlfriend without her knowledge while she sleeps…yeah. Ideal boyfriend material.
It’s very slightly disappointing that he’s not the narrator.
Don’t get me wrong. Hayley is an interesting, complex character. She’s tough because she’s had to be, taking care of her dad and helping him with his PTSD for as long as she has. She struggles in school because she never had to learn how to study and the time-management skills that pretty much every other kid her age has. I was somewhat surprised that she was just placed in all grade-level classes without a test (especially math, where we’re shown her struggling throughout the book), but maybe that just happened before the story started?
At any rate, she can be a difficult character to actually like. I feel like her father did a number on her over the years. Sure, she can assess a threat and find a solution quickly, but she’s also wound tighter than a piano wire. Throughout the book she wishes her dad would keep his appointments at the VA hospital and talk to a therapist, but he’s not really the only one that applies to. With all the stuff that Hayley herself is dealing with, I’m pretty sure a few hours talking to a professional psychologist (not her school counselor) would do her good. If someone were to suggest she do this, though, Hayley would probably either shut them out or slug them in the stomach.
It’s just the kind of girl she is.
The big issue in the book is Hayley’s dad’s PTSD, of course, and I feel like Anderson does a decent job of portraying this. Her father has his good days, where he gets dressed, makes breakfast, goes to work, and actually, y’know, parents. On his bad days he wakes up screaming from nightmares, drinks too much, and threatens people with axes. Even though PTSD is more complex than that sort of bipolar behavior, we’re seeing him through Hayley’s first-person narration. She doesn’t necessarily understand why he’s affected the way he is, nor does she know how to help him. All she knows is how to tiptoe around and not set him off.
And as much as her dad is plagued by his bad memories of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Hayley seems to have spent the last several years of her life repressing her memories of the past. They bleed through sometimes in short, lurch-y confusing segments—Anderson made a good stylistic choice when relating them—but it isn’t until the book is almost over than we know what they actually all mean. The reveal is slow and deliberate, and Hayley’s anxiety bleeds through in the word choice and choppy structure Anderson uses.
Also, I was totally convinced that one particular one character was going to die throughout, and I was pleased to be wrong.
Though sometimes slow, the characters in this book will draw you in and not let go, even after the final page is turned.
- High school students
- People tasked with caring for loved ones with PTSD or other mental illness
- People who love complex stories with no clear solutions
- Alcohol Use: characters drink underage
- Death: characters deal with the deaths of friends and family members
- Deceit: characters trick one another so they won’t get in trouble
- Drug Use: characters recreationally use both prescription and illegal drugs
- Emotional Abuse: characters play with others’ feelings throughout
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Sex: characters discuss sex and consider engaging in sexual activity
- Suicide: characters nearly commit suicide
- Swearing: characters swear throughout
- Violence: some arguments in the book become violent; characters threaten violence against others
- War: war and its effects are important plot points
- Alcohol Abuse
- Drug Abuse
- Mental Illness
- Overcoming Adversity
- Right vs. Wrong
- Romantic Love
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|Consideration of Themes||2|
|Suspension of Disbelief||1|
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|Rhythm and Pace of Book||1|
|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||2|