Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Nice Effort! Still enjoyed it despite negatives)

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the Printz Honor book Speak, is back with her latest offering The Impossible Knife of Memory. This contemporary young adult book deals with serious and emotional content focusing on a troubled war vet with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and his teen daughter. The book packs an emotional punch and is beautifully written.

The Skinny

Hayley and her father Andy have been on the road for five years. Andy, a war vet, suffers from PTSD leaving him practically incapable for caring for Hayley. Hayley is in constant fear for her father’s well being and events in her past have kept her from letting anyone past her tough facade. After years being home-schooled, Andy decides that Hayley needs to go to high school and they settle back into their hometown. Hayley must adjust to a “normal” life while still living with the fear of her father’s condition on a daily basis. She reconnects with an old friend and is introduced to mysterious good guy Finn. Finn brings out a side in Hayley she thought disappeared which allows her to hope again that things can get better. As Hayley’s armor begins to fall, old wounds are reopened when someone from her past comes forward and complicates everything.

My Thoughts: A Solid YA Contemporary with Heart

After finishing, I caught my breath and enjoyed a sigh of relief. This books definitely puts you on a roller coaster of emotions from highs to lows along with some bumps. I enjoyed the whole premise of the book focusing on the implications of PTSD in a family. The raw and gritty content hooked me and connected perfectly with Anderson’s writing style. My favorite part of the story is the culmination of events which I will not spoil. The intensity and emotional impact of the scene had me on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears. The story is filled with real emotion including the romance between Hayley and Finn. Hayley experienced emotional trauma as a child, as a result, she developed a cynical and sarcastic mask to hide behind to keep her safe from any more disappointments or hurt. Finn breaks through that mask and challenges Hayley’s perception of the world and how she has lived her life thus far. Seeing their relationship progress forward is satisfying; however, seeing the faults and problems adds more depth and realism to their story.

The two issues I had with this book are the slow beginning and uninspiring end. I had a hard time getting into the story initially because it lacked action. The beginning laid the foundation for the background of Hayley and Andy explaining why they decided to permanently move back home. The story focuses on Hayley’s struggle adapting to high school and the constant worry about something horrible happening to her father. The plot seems to take a little too much time establishing this part of Hayley’s life. The story really starts to move forward after the bonfire scene and when Hayley and Finn’s relationship move past friendship. As I mentioned before, my favorite part of the book is the climax at the end of the book. However, the events after seem to pail in comparison. I was expecting more to happen, but it never manifested. It’s an okay ending which does work, but I was expecting more. Overall, I recommend this book for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson, contemporary YA fiction, and emotional stories. The story is beautifully written and the voice of Hayley breathes life into these issues making them relevant to teens today.