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The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson's newest release, The Impossible Knife of Memory, is another poignant realistic fiction novel bound to capture the hearts of most teenagers.
The novels follows the dysfunctional family of Hayley Kincain, a rebellious high-school student whose past has hardened her to the point that she no longer cares for her future. From her blue hair to her pessimistic attitude, she is every teacher's nightmare.
But few people at school know that she lives in her own sort of nightmare at home. Her mother is dead, her step-mother is long gone, and her only friend is breaking down from the drama of her parents' divorce. For the past five years, Hayley has traveled around the country, riding shotgun in a truck while her dad, Andy, steers and tries to outrun his memories. Haunted by his war days and plagued with a debilitating case of post-traumatic stress disorder, he turns to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain and to fight the ghosts. Hayley is left alone, tired of taking care of her father but terrified of how he might hurt himself if she leaves.
Hayley has never had the luxury of living a normal life. She has long since given up on schooling and making friends, believing that the world is full of "freaks" and "zombies." So when her dad, in a moment of clear sobriety, moves her to his small hometown to finally settle down, she is not sure what to do. She is especially lost when she meets Fin Ramos, a boy who challenges her assumption that the world is full of bad people out to get her.
Unfortunately, Hayley has her own demons to fight. There is a fine line between forgetting and not remembering and Hayley begins to lose control, getting lost in her own traumatic past. And there is no one left to pick up the broken pieces.
While majority of Anderson's characters from other novels are likeable, it unfortunately takes a lot of time to get used to Hayley. Her snarky attitude and acidic cynicism ruin much of the book. She judges everyone and the fact that she does not even try to succeed in life is worth some hair-pulling. Yet at the same time, she possess a type of tongue-in-cheek humor that is impossible not to smile at and she always manages make a wisecrack, even in the most dire of circumstances. There is no doubt that Anderson has skillfully given Hayley a very distinct and strong voice, even though it gets a little aggravating.
Although most of the narration is done in Hayley's voice, throughout The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson does a great job in incorporating snippets of Hayley's father's memories, his fears for himself and his daughter, along with the desperation he is drowning in. These sections are poignant and darkly surreal, which provide a contrast between the past and present.
The closing of the book is a slight letdown, especially when written by someone with Anderson's caliber. In addition to being slightly cheesy with a typical happy ending, there are still questions to be answered. For instance, the rocky relationship and history between Hayley and her step-mother, Trish, is unclear. The recovery of her father is even more obscure. Although these are small details, it would have been nice if the author could have tied up the loose ends.
Anderson is well-known for being able to incorporate a variety of difficult topics--bulimia and anorexia in Wintergirls, sexual assault in Speak, and gender roles in Twisted--to raise awareness of them through her works.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is no different. PTSD, for instance, plays a central role in Hayley's family life and relationships. Anderson provides a unique perspective into the impacts of the disorder, as shown by Andy's deterioration of stability, his sleepless nights full of haunting memories, and the roller-coaster ups and downs. She also displays a strong angle from Hayley's point of view to demonstrate the detrimental effects of PTSD that go far beyond the victim himself. Younger readers should proceed with caution--some topics like suicide and substance abuse come up as well, making the book perhaps a bit more appropriate for high-school students.
Overall, though, The Impossible Knife of Memory is well-written and highly recommended for avid readers of realistic fiction. And like its title announces, the book is definitely impossible to forget.