I have never known a Laurie Halse Anderson novel to be a disappointment and The Impossible Knife of Memory – published 15 whole years (already!) after the seminal Speak – is also anything but! On the contrary, it shows once again that Anderson can put her mind to something – in this case ‘dealing with PTSD’ – run with it, make the topic her own, mold it and shape it into an impeccably written novel, containing convincing characters. Characters who are anything but perfect, characters who do questionable things, but who are incredibly believable and real.
17-year-old Hayley Kincain has been homeschooled for a long time because her father’s restless mind didn’t allow him to stay put. Now, though, her father decides it’s best to settle down again so Hayley can graduate from school like the rest of her peers. This however, does not tell the entire story. Hailey doesn’t really want to deal with her memories, memories that involve a dead mother, a dead grandmother, an evil alcie stepmother Trish, but most importantly an ex-military father who’s suffering from PTSD and who she is basically taking care of. A daughter performing a parent’s duty and keeps the fact that she’s suffering from it a secret for the outside world.
Through some flashbacks, the reader gets to see some of the horrors that Hayley’s dad went through during his deployment in Iraq, a deployment which now causes severe trauma. Some of this is not easy to read, nor should it be. This is an incredibly serious issue and the reader gets to see it all. All of Hayley’s father’s experiences influence Hayley and the way she interacts with the people around her, who she considers to be zombies. As a result, Hayley doesn’t really have a lot of friends. There’s Gracie, the girl she knew ‘from before’, but now there’s also Finn, a boy who shows a real interest in her. Hayley doesn’t really understand this herself but she slowly lets him into her complicated life. With his help Hayley starts recognizing certain things about her life and the people in it, what she needs and what her dad needs. At the same time she starts to realize she might not be the only one dealing with difficult (home) issues. It’s also great to see different types of relationships in a novel, not just boy-girlfriend (which there also is, of course), but also father-daughter, stepmother-stepdaughter, friend-friend and a few more.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is one my favorite 2014 reads so far, no question about that. For all the horrible things and the darkness it contains, there’s something incredibly hopeful and at times even funny about it too. Anderson has a knack for infusing her (main) characters with a certain wit that lights up their sentences. Not that it ends all sunflowers and daisies, of course, because issues like PTSD or broken relationships don’t just heal miraculously. The Impossible Knife of Memory confirms Anderson as a go-to author: powerful story, true characters, stellar writing, wit, emotion and a dash of romance? If only more books could deliver on all of those points!