The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson


impossible knifeAnderson (Speak, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999) is never afraid to tackle hot button issues, and Impossible Knife is no exception. In this novel, she uses the story of a high school girl and her ex-army father to illuminate the shoddy treatment of veterans and their difficulty in reassimilating into a world that is not full of threats, along with the fallout this has on their loved ones.

After years of being on the road, Hayley Kincain and her dad are settling down, ostensibly so that Hayley can take her senior year at a high school, but really because her father is suffering with untreated and worsening PTSD. Hayley’s life experiences, as well as 6 years of unschooling, make her feel isolated from the other student “zombies” and her voice and persona is tough and snarky, though also achingly hurt and bewildered behind this hostile facade.  She meets the charismatic Finnegan Ramos, and while Finn’s attraction to Hayley somewhat strains credibility, he introduces her to a more normal teenage life. However, Hayley’s denial of her father’s condition, and of her own past, in which the parental figures essentially abandoned her, starts to break down as her father becomes increasingly erratic, lashing out at himself, strangers and finally Hayley herself.

Hayley’s vulnerability feels very real, with the imagery of edges and lines between light and dark reflecting her emotional state, and though there are no easy solutions, a crisis does bring a fragile resolution as she finally faces “the difference between forgetting something and not remembering”.

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