You Read What? Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher:  Penguin Group

  • Imprint: Viking Juvenile

Date Published:  January 7th 2014

Format: Paperback/Advanced Reader’s Copy

Source: From the publisher for an honest review

Synopsis:

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.

Number of Days It Took to Read: 1

Cover:

Impossible knife of memory

Nice cover and very relevant to the story

The Writing Score: 5 out of 5

Recommendation: Must Read

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating:  5 out of 5

Review:

“Killing people is easier than it should be.” Dad put on his beret. “Staying alive is harder.”

This is my favourite quote from the book and quite possibly one that really captures it best. Right off the gate, I like to state that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just limited to those who’ve served as soldiers and sent overseas into dangerous environments. Anyone can experience a traumatic event which means everyone has the potential to get PTSD but also not every soldier will have PTSD. With that said, I think this book is very relevant today given the military involved missions that America has engaged in the last decade or so and the many soldiers coming home from all kinds of traumatic experiences they’ve faced. I’m not a psychiatrist but as a reader I believe that Laurie Halse Anderson did a great job depicting not only the difficulties of a young person who’s facing a daily fear that her father may hurt himself (due to PTSD) but also the helplessness of that parent to do their job effectively because they can’t shake off the grip that past violence has on them. Hayley’s constant fear for her father may not be diagnosed as PTSD or would be as extreme as PTSD but it does create some kind of parallel between the constant fear that I’m sure soldiers like her father had while deployed.

This leads me to the topic of memory not only because of the title but also because memory seems to be a running theme in the book. We get glimpses of the memories that Hayley’s father had during his time overseas that tends to make him depressed, moody, angry or self medicate through drugs and alcohol. There is a ritual of forgetting or pushing aside when he drinks till he’s blacked out or getting high. Hayley does a similar ritual where she seems to have blocked out memories from before she went off driving around in her father’s truck at age 11/12. There’s an active form of forgetting that later becomes an unconscious forgetting where she no longer remembers the act itself. There’s also the changing the narrative of memories in order to cope which we see with Hayley in regards to Trish. Memories have the power to hurt us but they also have the ability to grow us if we think of it in terms of the cliche: Those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it.

Hayley’s past (or memory repression) and her father’s past affects her present. It affects the relationship she has with Finn as well as her good friend Gracie. It affects her schooling and communication with others. It also prevents her from thinking about a future for herself because she is so worried about the well being for her father. Her fear seeps into every facet of her life and manifests in interesting places like the mall which we don’t notice as anything other than a place of entertainment and necessity.

The most interesting thing about the book is Hayley’s binary world view that is different from our own. She sees people as Zombies or Freaks. Freaks seen as the positive while Zombies are a negative. I saw Freaks as the more desirable trait because Hayley states we are all Freaks when we are born. We have faults, feel a degree/moments of unhappiness and generally don’t have a smooth ride in life. Freaks are desirable because they don’t hide these things which Hayley views as universal which I too believe as well. Zombies, however, plaster on this facade of happiness and everything being great which is for the rest world to see despite how they feel internally. This is interesting because to a degree Hayley is in fact a Zombie when she doesn’t disclose her home situation and is not showing her true self to the world.

Halse Anderson writes beautifully and offers moments of Hayley’s father’s own point of view which gives the reader a greater insight into the situation. I loved Finn and had fallen for him as a character quietly and effortlessly. Hayley is a strong character and someone who I felt I wanted to protect as I tried offering unsolicited advice to the page. I do believe this is a wonderful book for teens but just as great for adults as well.

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

2 thoughts on “You Read What? Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

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