Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 with 7 comments
Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Series: n/a
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Source: ARC received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible

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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.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

I'm going to be honest: I've kept my distance from Laurie Halse Anderson books because they deal with such controversial subjects. They're real and gritty and genuine. Above all, they evoke all of those emotions that I would usually prefer to keep bottled up. But I think I've read more "issues" books in the last year or two than in my whole life -- except in the sixth grade when I was reading all those damn Lurlene McDaniel books (gawd, why didn't someone STOP me?) -- and when I was given the opportunity to review a copy of this book, I accepted the challenge.

And now I can honestly say that I was a fool for not reading this sooner. It wasn't nearly as sad as I was expecting. In fact, it had about the same emotional impact as Side Effects May Vary, which left me raging rather than in tears for much of the story. Same thing here. What this story had going for it was that it was unapologetically real. It's not going to be for everyone and it's going to be a difficult read for others, especially those who've dealt with PTSD or know someone who suffers from it. But knowing that the subject is close to the author's heart, as well, makes it all the more inspirational to me. If she can talk about it, then I shouldn't be so afraid to read about it, right?

Hayley Kincain has been "home-schooled" for much of her life while on the road with her father, who became a truck driver after returning home from his military service. Captain Kincain isn't what one would call mentally competent to take care of himself most of the time, let alone a teenage daughter. So, in his attempt to do what's best for Hayley, they return to the town he grew up in so that she can attend a normal high school for her senior year and do something with her life besides take care of him.

Friendships and other interactions with people her own age are foreign to Hayley. But she holds her own against the "zombies" she sees walking the halls of her school. She manages to make a friend or two, as well. And then Finn kind of comes out of nowhere and is exactly what she needs to survive the year. But he isn't perfect. Just as Hayley has family issues to deal with, Finn has drama of his own to contend with, and neither are particularly well-suited for sharing. There are disagreements and miscommunication, but like a normal teenage couple, they endeavor to work through their problems, even their impending graduation and where that will leave them.

While Hayley navigates the soul-crushing despair that is high school, she also has to come home to a father who abuses drugs and alcohol, whose mood changes with the setting of the sun, and who ultimately wants the best for his little girl but can't pull himself together long enough to see to it. Neither really sees eye-to-eye on much, and neither really knows how to help the other cope. Because not only is Captain Andy Kincain suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but Hayley's starting to develop some symptoms, too, including her fear of crowds and a slight tendency toward paranoia. She's blocked out a ton of memories from her childhood that are only now starting to return and throw her even further for a loop. And her lack of trust is sometimes debilitating, especially when it comes to Trish, the woman who practically raised her while her father was overseas.

It seems that everyone in this novel, side characters included, has something difficult in their life that they must overcome. This story was brutally honest in every facet, and I think it further proves the point that everyone is going through something. I do think that maybe all of the loose ends were tied up a little too neatly, that things ended a little too perfectly for the story as it had come thus far, but I honestly don't know if I could have handled it ending any other way. The Impossible Knife of Memory was a raw and emotionally-draining story that I won't soon forget. And I'll definitely be checking out more of the author's work after this.

GIF it to me straight:

About the author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous national and state awards, as well as international recognition. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Laurie was honored with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes.

Find Laurie:

WebsiteTwitter | Goodreads | Facebook | YouTube


  1. Lordy this one sounds so intense I'm afraid to read it for fear of book feels lol. Great review!

    -Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

  2. great review. I love this book. I wasn't expecting what I got but I loved what I got. it is full of issues and yes it was wrapped up a little too nicely, but I am glad it was. I don't think I could have dealt with it any other way. I would have been crushed.

  3. You know, I'm not big on the 'big issue' books but I know a lot of people really like them. I've not read that many so I'm not a great judge of a good one or not. I'm glad you enjoyed this--I've seen some mixed reviews but mostly positive. I have no clue if I'll read it. Excellent review Jen

  4. I'm thinking of getting the audio for this one, I hear it's a good one!

  5. I love LHA and just bought this last week. It sounds really good and seems like it's going to be everything that I like in this author's books. You should totally read Speak. It is AMAZING and is basically a YA classic now :)

  6. Yup, I'm with you 100%. I loved this book. I didn't know if I would...but I hadn't read any Laurie Halse Anderson before, so I was going in all innocent. Bahha. -_- Soul destroyer. I was freaking about every second page about what the dad would. My only kind of weirded-out-moment was those tiny snippets that didn't seem to be by Hayley (moments of what it's like to have PTSD?). I kind of felt they jerked me out of the story. But other than that BRILLIANT. I loved how Finn drove so carefully. ;) Awww.

  7. Anderson is a bit intimidating because of the issues she tackles, but I've been REALLY interested in reading this one. Now I'm even more so because you read and loved it! Thought-provoking books are always great to read here and there because it makes you feel like you received something after reading a book that's substantial. Need. This.


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