Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Teen Fiction
Publication Info: Viking Juvenile, 2014
Synopsis: After years on the road with her veteran father, Hayley must adjust to a “normal” life with a permanent home and public schooling. Yet as she struggles to come to terms with her new life, she must also deal with the consequences of her father’s PTSD and worrying behavior.
Overall Rating: 4/5
This was my first novel by Anderson, and I was thoroughly impressed by her frank and beautiful way of telling such a genuine and heartbreaking story. There are so many layers to this book, from Hayley’s issues to her father’s issues to the walls they build around themselves because of these issues, and I loved how Anderson explored these layers and the complexity of the situations. I would not classify this as a happy, light, or fun summer read, but despite its sad content (and few flaws that bothered me), I think this is definitely well worth reading.
Like with Fangirl, I often found myself wondering what the plot was building to, mainly because I’ve become accustomed to the clearly defined plotline of teen dystopian/adventure novels. It seemed that Anderson wanted to portray the reality of Hayley’s life, which was well-written and realistic, but I kept asking myself, “What’s the point? What are we heading towards?”
To me, the point of this novel is change. Like Fangirl, we see Hayley adjust and grow over time, and because of this, I would classify the story as one of growing up and finding one’s place. In the beginning, we meet a bitter and reserved protagonist who cannot stand the people around her and does not want her new life. As Hayley faces different challenges, from friendship to romance to the public school system, she begins to change in demeanor and approach, and at some points, I cheered for her — at other points, I wanted to physically shake and scream at her. And that’s how I knew that I was hooked, not only to this character, but also to her storyline. Although Anderson doesn’t give a clear-cut path towards the end of the book, it’s this connection that keeps you reading to the emotional and climactic ending.
And now, my one true quibble with this book — not the ending, but the epilogue. I refuse to give any details, but I felt that the story would have been more fulfilling if Anderson hadn’t tacked on an epilogue. The resolution of the climactic ending, to me, gave me hope for Hayley and her future, and that was enough. Because I was already fulfilled (plot-wise), the epilogue felt forced and unnecessary, and after a story so real and genuine, telling what happened to everyone afterwards felt suspiciously like a “happily ever after.” But perhaps I’m too cynical, as some people may truly appreciate this epilogue. I leave that to you to decide.
As stated before, Hayley is incredibly bitter, reserved, saracastic, and stubborn to a fault — which means I absolutely loved and connected with this character! (Although what that says about me I’m not going to explore…) Because of all her faults, Hayley was incredibly real to me: I could see her, hear her, as I read, and that is not easy for a writer to accomplish. Well done, Anderson! Hayley’s characterization also shows moments of true depth and complexity as she veers between immature and mature, teenager and adult, around others, particularly her dad. Having to play the parent to one’s parent is not easy, and Anderson showed how damaging and difficult this was to Hayley, as it is to anyone who endures it.
Because of the emotional connection I felt towards Hayley, I was able to experience and understand her reactions to her father. His PTSD and substance abuse is downright scary at times, and when Hayley felt scared or angry, I felt the same. But despite all that, like Hayley I wanted him to succeed and be a father and see his own worth, and this deep connection I felt to the story and characters shows Anderson’s writing genius.
Finally, the romance between Hayley and Finn reminds me of the romance in Fangirl, because it, too, is genuine and authentic. These two fight and misunderstand and become awkward and ignore each other, but at the end of the day, are obviously good for each other. And the romance doesn’t overshadow any of the story, but rather enhances it, which I was so happy about.
Although I have yet to read any of Anderson’s other novels, if they are as wonderfully written as this, I have no choice but to read them all. Anderson does not tiptoe around the realities of life, both good and bad, and I really appreciated this straight-forward, truthful approach.
(Because I’m a hypercritical nut, I do have to point out that I caught a few blatant typos and grammatical errors that hopefully are fixed when this is published in paperback.)
Who I recommend this to:
- Fans of John Green’s novels
- Fans of Thirteen Reasons Why and the Anonymous novels (i.e. Go Ask Alice, Jay’s Journal)
- Realistic fiction readers
- High school, college, and beyond (warning: language, violence, mentions of suicide, sex, alcohol, and drugs)