For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is a gripping and heart-wrenching journey through the effects of PTSD on a man, Andy, and his 17 year old daughter, Hayley. Andy loves his daughter, but is haunted by ghosts of his past. As a result he relies on alcohol and drugs to try to combat the memories that are tearing him apart on a daily basis, leaving Hayley to care for him as if she was the parent.
Hayley, the narrator of the book finds herself torn between having a “normal” teenage life, taking care and worrying about her war-torn father, and memories of her own past. She does so with dignity and courage, despite her inability to trust anyone around her, not even her closest friends. She often pushes the people who care about her the most away in order to self-preserve and take care of her father, to try to keep his illness a secret from her schoolmates and teachers.
I love how raw The Impossible Knife of Memory is. Laurie Halse Anderson writes in such a realistic manner that I often found myself staring at the page at the end of a chapter with my mouth open in utter shock and disbelief. Both Hayley and Andy’s lives are difficult, they are both teetering on the edge and are barely able to hold themselves and one another up. This is especially apparent in the chapters written from Andy’s perspective, where we get a peek at the horrifying things that he experienced during his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the book itself has heavy themes and material, I love the hope that Laurie Halse Anderson brings into her storytelling. Hayley desperately needs hope, and finds it through her new friend, Finn as romance blossoms between them. While his life is also troubled, Finn tries to crack Hayley’s tough exterior to get to know her and show her that there is hope for her and for her father.
Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the most influential authors in Young Adult literature for a reason. She writes about real issues faced by teens and she doesn’t sugar coat or talk down to her readers. She tackles the tough shit, issues that are “taboo,” ones that people don’t want to talk about, but that need to be brought to the forefront (yet does so in a sensitive manner). Her words can make you laugh out loud one minute (Hayley’s comparison of her classmates to zombies), punch you in the gut the next (the chapters written from Andy’s perspective), and shortly after have you in tears because of something that was written so beautifully or something that is so heart-wrenching that you can’t help but tear up.
I can’t give The Impossible Knife of Memory enough praise. Not only was it a beautiful and well-written book that tackled very difficult subjects, Laurie Halse Anderson has drawn from her own life experiences and what she saw her father go through as a veteran with PTSD. While reading it, it was almost impossible to find a decent place to stop reading and go back to work (go to bed, make/eat dinner, clean). Laurie Halse Anderson has written yet another masterpiece.