Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Review:  The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published by Viking Juvenile on January 7th, 2014
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
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.


First sentence:  It started in detention.

Thoughts:  PTSD is an ugly disease, one that many suffer from every day.  And yet it is talked about so little, the treatment thereof ignored, and its victims completely misunderstood and misrepresented.  Laurie Halse Anderson rips away the curtain that hides the realities of PTSD and plunges her readers right into the lives of a family being torn apart by it.  The Impossible Knife of Memory is not an easy book to read, but it is an important one with the power to really help its readers.

Hayley’s father, Andy, is a war veteran, and ever since he finally came home for good, life has gotten more and more sour.  From 7th to 11th grade, Hayley rode passenger in her father’s rig; they traveled the country and he ‘home schooled’ her, sometimes stopping in one small town or another for a few weeks at a time, only to pack up and leave again once her father’s moods started turning south.  Her dad’s violent outbursts and inability to reestablish himself stateside has left Hayley with few coping skills of her own and an inability to deal with any kind of stress or plans that last longer than minute-by-minute.

Anderson was able to capture the symptoms of PTSD perfectly – both in Andy, the vet, and also in Hayley, who has suffered her own traumas.  Books like these are so important when it comes to tackling mental illness.  So often these diseases are entirely misrepresented and almost deliberately misunderstood.  Physical injuries and outer scars are easier to handle, I understand that, but with each new case of post traumatic stress disorder cropping up across this country, I believe that it is imperative that Americans especially get their act together when it comes to the stigma and treatment of mental illness.  /rant.

Hayley’s voice throughout The Impossible Knife of Memory was spectacular, and a wonderful writing decision for this novel.  With such heaviness and despair flowing through every page, Hayley’s sarcasm and humor were exactly right in lightening this novel and making it easier to swallow.  Of course, a lot of her joking was an easy defense mechanism and a way to entirely ignore her problems.  But I appreciated that because it made her seem more believable.  She wasn’t swallowed whole by all the awful things around her.

So much of The Impossible Knife of Memory dealt with relationships.  The relationship between Hayley and her father; her relationship with her friends; navigating the strange and murky waters of a first romantic relationship with Finn;  understanding her relationship with her father’s old girlfriend, Trish.  I appreciated that there were all different kinds of love – and all different kinds of families – represented in this novel.   None of these relationships were perfect, but they were able to grow not due to overcoming external conflict, but by recognizing and actually dealing with the interpersonal conflict.  Hayley had to deal with so much at her own home, between her father’s drug abuse, fits of rage, and strange mood swings, but she was also there for her friend Gracie who was also going through a pretty terrible time, too.  None of the relationships ever took a back seat to another, and I loved so much that each conflict was given the time and respect it deserved.

All is not perfect in The Impossible Knife of Memory, though.  Most of my issues lie with the romance, even as I defended Finn on twitter.  (*waves at Ashleigh.*)  Towards the beginning of the book, Finn tricks Hayley into going on a date with him.  Depending on where you sit, that can be pretty cute and romantic, but it can also be a little creepy and pushy.   I thought Finn was really, really sweet, but I can definitely see the other side of things.  I did end up really taking a liking to Finn, even though I did have trouble with the strange anti-date.  The REAL problem I had with him is that he felt like a John Green character.  Of course he was smart, and I did enjoy the fact that he didn’t speak like Augustus Waters for the first 1/3 of the book.  But by the end, the forced wit and strange monologues got to be too much for me.

Regardless of the bumps I had with Finn, I absolutely loved The Impossible Knife of Memory.  Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best authors out there when it comes to tackling the toughest issues.  She gives these issues a voice that is familiar and easy to swallow, especially for young readers.  The Impossible Knife of Memory is no exception and I feel that this, being especially timely, will speak to many, many readers.


Read 3 comments

  1. My psychic tingle told me to look at this review in particular. I guess it knew you were waving at me! I loved everything related to Hayley’s family, her Dad’s PTSD, and their screwed-up family dynamic. Laurie is so good at tackling hard stuff like that. <3 I wish the romance had been toned down because I didn't like it much and it took up a surprisingly large part of the book. Then I would have flat-out loved the novel in its entirety! Awesome review, Bekka. Other than our thoughts on Finn/the romance, it looks like our thoughts line up pretty closely.

  2. No to the John Green character! Other than that, I’m looking forward to this and nervous about it at the same time. Even though (or maybe because) they’re really good, Laurie Halse Anderson books feel like a lot of *work* to me. And I still have a bunch of her backlist books to catch up on…

  3. I had no idea that this was about PTSD (how did I miss that?). However, with that title, I can see it now.

    I think a lot of Halse Anderson’s work is hard to read but should be read. Speak, for instance, made me extremely upset when I first read it (and still does to this day). Her books are hard, but they are more than worth the extra effort. You know?

    CANNOT AGREE WITH YOU MORE ABOUT HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IS TREATED HERE. It is one of the worst things about t his country. And when you see so many anti-therapy YA novels… well.. it’s nice to see that this book handles it better.

    I can’t wait to read this (iffy romance or no!). Thanks for the lovely review, Bekka!


Leave a Reply