The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014)by Laurie Halse Anderson
Suggested age range: 13 and up (Viking, 391 pages)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Source: Personal Copy
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Social Issues
The Book: Navigating the halls of high school and taking care of a father suffering from PTSD after military time in the Middle East: this is what Haley Kincain is facing at the beginning of Anderson’s new book. Often in detention, Haley is depicted as a typical teenager who doesn’t want to be in school, and is cynical of adults and their attempts to be involved in her life. Can Haley handle the weight of her father’s PTSD and his tendency to drink on her own? When a boy at her school asks for her help with the “newspaper,” she at first refuses, but his persistence eventually results in a new friend. Intense at times, the narrative flashes back to Andy’s experiences in combat, providing a deeper glimpse into the source of his present condition in the story. Though it may seem as if the book is heading down a dark tunnel at first, this story does promise some light at its end.
Spirituality in Impossible Knife: The story highlights the importance of looking beneath the surface of appearances—a person may seem disrespectful, rebellious, and just downright cynical, but sometimes, there is hidden hurt responsible for this. I really didn’t like Haley at first, but she grew on me as the story progressed and I learned reasons why she acted the way she did. Her interactions with some of the adults in the story also reminded me that though we respond with kindness to those who are hurting underneath a façade, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will respond with vulnerability right away. It is persistent kindness and sensitivity that just might be the answer.
Who Should Read This Book: This is an important book, for both young adult and adult readers. Young adults with parents like Andy, might especially appreciate the book. Certainly, it’s an intense read, but it illuminates aspects of a condition that, in many ways, is still misunderstood. Additionally, the book shows how Haley’s dad’s PTSD affects his family and friends. Finally, if you enjoy Anderson’s other books, you should check it out. Whether you like it as much as her other books or not, I know I always enjoy comparing books by my favorite authors.
The Final Word: Though it was difficult for me to connect with Haley at many points in the book, I could still appreciate the way Anderson sensitively treats the issue of PTSD and traces its effects in those around the person suffering from it. I will say that Haley grew on me as the book progressed, and I especially liked the conclusion, but wished some of what transpires in the conclusion had began earlier. I adore Anderson’s work, but I didn’t like this book as much as some of her other work, like Speak, Chains, and Forge.