Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: 1-7-2014
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Source: ARC provided from publisher in exchange for honest review
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.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is about Hayley, a senior in high school who has spent the last five years being homeschooled all over the US by her father, a truck driver and a war veteran. Now, back living at the house where he grew up and Hayley spent her first few years, she attempts to attend a mainstream high school and deal with her fellow classmates and teachers, who she considers nothing more than “zombies.”
This is the first novel I’ve read that’s dealt with the issue of veterans and PTSD. Hayley is accused by her friends of taking care of her father more than he takes care of her, but she is only trying to do the best that she can in this unfortunate situation. And she can take care of herself. Hayley was such an awesome main character. I really identified with her independent nature, willingness to learn, and snarky attitude towards following the rules. She’s constantly in trouble because, even though she’s obviously very smart, she has trouble applying herself in school while she’s dealing with more important things in her home life.
And then there’s Finn. Hayley’s best (and only) friend Grace gives her the idea that she and Finn would be perfect together…as they’re both “anti-zombie” and a little weird. Finn has a similarly rough situation at home, so they really are kind of perfect for each other, and it’s so sweet when they realize that, too. I really loved reading their conversations. The back-and-forth teasing was adorable, and neither of them knew quite how to be in a typical high school relationship, so it was cute to watch them figure it out as they went along.
This novel also deals with the theme of memory. Hayley’s father’s memories of the war and Hayley’s childhood memories are both importance parts of this novel, and those random sections throughout the book don’t really click into place until the last chapter. While I thought that what Anderson was trying to accomplish with the memory sections was cool, I didn’t feel like it was done as well as it could’ve been. It was kind of confusing and I wasn’t really sure what the point of it all was. There wasn’t really that big “ah hah” moment that I’d expected. It all came together, but it was jumbled up and wasn’t that shocking or surprising. It seemed like we were supposed to think that there was this big mystery, when there really wasn’t. And I wanted the issue of memory to have more to do with the ending of the book than it really did, because it seemed like it was going to be really important and then it wasn’t.
I also had this weird feeling throughout the whole book of not really getting what the novel was all about. Like this sense of not understanding where the author was going. Usually when you read a novel, you kind of know what the “end game” is. The main character is going to fall in love, escape from a bad situation, finally break out of her shell…whatever it may be, you usually see it coming. But this novel meandered around and didn’t have a clear direction, and that was kind of annoying. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t figure out where it was going, or it was supposed to be a mystery…it just wasn’t really going anywhere. There was kind of a big climax at the end, but it just felt strange that the whole novel was leading up to that point. I guess I was expecting something else to happen, mostly with the memory stuff, and I didn’t really get the payoff that I was hoping for, or any understanding of why the novel seemed so pointless for so long.
But even though it did seem a little directionless for the majority of it, I was still totally sucked in. I read half of the book, woke up and read the next half. I did not want to stop reading. I really came to care about the characters, and I wanted to know what was going to happen to Hayley, her father, and Finn. I think that the author did a really good job in ending the book, as well. Although some of the issues in the book were obviously dealt with one way or another, there were a few loose ends that weren’t totally taken care of. And I wasn’t left with an overwhelming sense that everything that was going to “happily ever after,” either. But that’s how real life is…and I can imagine Hayley’s and Finn’s life continuing after the ending of the book, just like real people’s would, and that’s pretty cool.