The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

As someone who wrote an entire research paper on the importance of YA fiction and the genius of Laurie Halse Anderson, I own up to my bias. The Impossible Knife of Memory captures so much of what I love about young-adult contemporary and realistic fiction. It possesses a witty and cynical narrator, it delves into a real and painful issue, and it offers a nuanced yet meaningful message of hope.

Hayley Kincaid divides the human race into two types of people: the freaks and the zombies. Her lack of faith in her fellow man makes sense – she spent the past five years on the road with her father, Andy, a war vet who resorts to alcohol and drugs to escape his demons. He decides that they should move back into his hometown, and Hayley starts up at a normal high school, except nothing in her life is normal. Not Andy’s PTSD that still plagues him and leaves him screaming in his sleep, not Gracie, her best friend who suffers family issues of her own, and definitely not Finn, the attractive nerd with a disarming smile and a host of secrets. As Hayley’s bond with Finn escalates, she fights the memories that threaten to rise up and tear her apart again and again.

Hayley’s voice stuck out to me from the first page. Smart, disillusioned, and laced with acid, she reminded me of myself in high school, with just a bit more bite. Anderson writes in the first person perspective of a teenager with amazing skill. Adolescents and adults alike will relate to Hayley when she reflects upon the pointlessness of teenage drama, when she ruminates on how the other kids at school must be so lucky to lead such blessed lives, and when she refuses to put with what she finds stupid and mundane on a daily basis.

But beneath all of Hayley’s snide remarks lies a pain-ridden emotional undercurrent. Anderson’s flashback snippets entrench us not only in Andy’s experience as a soldier, but it allows us to view Hayley’s suffering too. Raised without her birth mother, abandoned as a child, and more responsible for her father than he is for her, Hayley represses her trauma and deals with a ticking time bomb every day: not just her father’s mood swings, but her own deep mental wounds. In The Impossible Knife of Memory Anderson makes sense of a messy teenage mindset while still offering a flawed yet realistic ending, rife with the seeds of a better future.

I adored the romance between Hayley and Finn. Now that I’m 18 I guess I have to say I wish I “had” a boyfriend like Finn in high school – even though that makes me feel old, their relationship supplied me with all the feelings. Their snarky banter kept me entertained and their deeper conversations left me in awe of Anderson’s character development. Neither of them are perfect and their relationship isn’t all roses and rainbows, but in the end, the trials and tribulations make it all the more worthwhile.

Highly recommended to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and young-adult realistic or contemporary fiction, as well as those interested in a book that deals with PTSD. Anderson has set the bar high for 2014 and I can only hope that other authors live up to the challenge.

*you can also check out my reviews of 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin and A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin here and here, respectively

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11 Comments

Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

11 responses to “The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

  1. I’m so happy to see you loved this one! Can’t wait for my library hold to come in. It just sounds amazing.

  2. First and foremost: you finished A Storm of Swords! AH! I finally gave in and bought it on my Kindle today since my library’s copies don’t seem to be returning anytime soon. I’ll probably post a loooong comment on your review when I finish. ;)

    Onto your review, which is beautifully written by the way. In all honesty, I’m rather terrified of Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s just something about her writing that always gets to me and I feel like I’m going to cry. Just the subject matter of this book is enough to have me stock-piling tissue boxes so I’ve been – rather cowardly – running past my copy of this even though I know I’m going to love it. I love your description of the main character and that, more than anything else, has bumped this up my TBR. I adore nothing more than an intelligent, but ever-so-slightly bitter heroine (except maybe a flawed romance, which this book ALSO has). In short, your review has convinced me to pick this one up sooner rather than later which, I can assure you, is no easy feat. :)

    • I guess this shows how late I am in responding to this comment but I just saw that you’ve finished A Storm of Swords too! Glad that we both had freak outs over the book (and I adore how you asked if Martin was a Lannister.) As for this book, Laurie Halse Anderson is a tough author to read, but I feel that that makes her writing all the more worth it – I hope you love it when you get around to it. Thank you for reading and commenting, Keertana. (:

  3. BRILLIANT review, Thomas! I’ve already bought two books from Chapters a while ago, and have not yet have the time to read them, but your review really makes me want to run to the bookstore and snatch TIKM off the shelf!

    I really like how this book doesn’t seem to just focus on the teen protagonist, but also her father, something you honestly don’t see a lot in YA. (Or never see, actually).

    Oh and this might just be the best sentence I’ve ever read in a book review: “Smart, disillusioned, and laced with acid, she reminded me of myself in high school, with just a bit more bite.” :D

    Again, great, great review Thomas!

    -Grace :)

    • Grace, it’s so great to hear from you! The father-daughter dynamic adds a unique quality to the book, and the best part is that Hayley’s interactions with her father, while painful to read, are really authentic. Thanks for reading and commenting, Grace.

  4. Never heard of this author! Intriguing.

    • Becky, I highly recommend reading one of her works! Either Speak, Wintergirls, or The Impossible Knife of Memory would be a great place to start – she also writes YA historical fiction.

  5. Pingback: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson Audiobook Review | The Reading Date

  6. When I was a teenager I loved Speak and Catalyst – I came back to them again and again. I also saw the film made of Speak with a very young Kristen Stewart, and quite liked that too. I really enjoyed this review.

    • Laurie Halse Anderson is a fabulous human being. I watched Speak over spring break and was impressed by Kristen Stewart’s performance – thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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