The Impossible Knife of Memory
Impossible Knife of Memory
Laurie Halse Anderson
ISBN 9780670012091
Viking/Penguin, 2014.
4 ½ stars
Keywords: addiction family friendship impossible-knife-memory laurie-halse-anderson ptsd romance

The Impossible Knife of Memory
by Laurie Halse Anderson

In this psychologically suspenseful novel, Laurie Halse Anderson's (Speak) 17-year-old heroine bravely copes in a household where her father battles PTSD and addiction.

Homeschooled for the past five years, Hayley Kincain enters public high school as a senior. Her observations reflect the teen's finely honed skills at reading her surroundings. "[H]igh school is where the zombification process becomes deadly," she thinks, after 24 days at Belmont. Hayley is sent to detention after attempting to correct her history teacher, and winds up in the guidance counselor's office because they can't get hold of Hayley's father--who's jobless again. After his two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, Hayley watches the "superhero who made the world safe" slowly self-destruct.

Anderson reveals Hayley's father's fragile emotional state little by little. Brief italicized chapters intermittently interject his memories around Hayley's first-person narrative. These add substance to the teen's insights into her father and dimension to her experience of him. Hayley becomes attracted to smart, persistent classmate Finn and comes to understand how much effort it takes to make a relationship work. Anderson delicately balances the slow-building optimism that arises from Hayley and Finn's evolution through the course of the book with weightier themes of neglect and abandonment resulting from the addicts in their lives (Finn's sister also battles addiction). The author creates a parallel between a parent and child both attempting to shut out the past in order to move forward, and characters authentic enough to pull off the build-up to her climactic denouement.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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