The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson Review

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson (Twitter)
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: January 7, 2014
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 391
Source: Personal Copy

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain 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.
You know those really amazing contemporary novels that you read and end up closing the final page absolutely speechless? The Impossible Knife of Memory is one of those books, and I have to admit that I'm not surprised. In a time when contemporary books didn't work for me at all, Laurie Halse Anderson's books rang true with a sort of genuine sincerity in the midst of novels plagued by meaningless, fleeting relationships and petty drama. Yet again, Ms. Anderson has crafted a story that, if you allow it, will speak to your soul.

I put off reading The Impossible Knife of Memory for a long time because I worried not only about the subject matter, but about the mixed reviews I was seeing from some of my favourite bloggers. I felt, from the start, that Hayley's voice rang completely true. Written from her perspective, we see layer after layer of venom, snide remarks, outward hostility and pretense, which offers her a thin facade from the world her father has created for them through his trauma. She's a very broken, shattered teenager, and while some might see her persona as "snark," I see it instead as a fading veneer that offers her little respite from the storm that rages both around her and inside of her.

The PTSD storyline is something I worried about. Being married to a war veteran and active-duty soldier, I've seen PTSD firsthand, both in mild forms like my husband's and in severe forms like some of his battle buddies. I've seen grown men hit the floor when weights fall in the gym - solely because of the sound bringing back a flood of memories. Naturally, I worried that The Impossible Knife of Memory might err on the side of cliches. Instead, I was surprised to find that Ms. Anderson tactfully shows us fragments of Andy's persona and illness, but she doesn't go into graphic detail. Rather, she focuses mainly upon Hayley, which gives us direction through the murky drama that PTSD entails. In the end, it must be said that this was well done because it is extremely difficult to paint a familiar portrait of an ailment that plagues its victims all in different manners.

This novel does offer us a romance, and while at first I felt that throwing Finn into the mix was merely a young adult ploy, I began to see it change and mold Hayley into someone new throughout the story. I've seen bloggers call it fake and forced, but I think that The Impossible Knife of Memory, for the most part, played this part well. While, I'll admit that the relationship started rocky for me, I began to see the beauty under the surface of their carefully-crafted snark and banter. Two broken souls were healing each other, and it was wonderful.

Overall, I was really impressed by The Impossible Knife of Memory. I think that the only real gripe I had with the story was the text-type throughout the book. There is something about seeing multiple abbreviations that makes me so irritated (and it does in texts, as well), and that threw me for a loop a few times. Despite that, I give this story a high 4 out of 5, and I definitely recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.


  1. I've yet to read a book written by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'm just afraid that it's going to be too much for me, or that by reading it and not liking it, I'm going to trivialize something that really happens in everyday life. I've also seen a lot of mixed reviews about this book that made me quite hesitant to pick it up. But I'm taking your word for it and maybe it's time for me to finally venture into Ms. Anderson's works. Great review as always, Melissa! :)

  2. I still haven't read any of Laurie Halse Anderson's books but I feel like this one will be my first.
    I'm not a particular lover of contemporaries, but I find myself reading more of them and finding some that I really adore cause they feel so true and not as overdone with drama and petty stuff. And by your review this seems to be case with this one!
    Thanks for a fantastic review, Melissa!

  3. While I didn't love this book, I thought it was beautifully written and liked how she handled the PTSD, showing how it effected not only the father but his daughter, too.

  4. Beautiful review, Melissa. I put off reading this one for some reason, but I think I'm going to have to check if my library has a copy of this after reading your review. I'm glad that you decided to give this a shot despite the mixed reviews.
    I'm happy to hear that the PTSD is handled properly. I've read so many books where the PTSD is cliched and unrealistic, so it makes me glad to hear this.
    I would be frustrated with the text-type writing, but since you've mentioned it and I now know about it, maybe it won't bother me as much.
    Lovely review, Melissa!

  5. Like you, I was so impressed with this one. Finn completely won my heart over and I'm so glad he transcended the barrier of "just" a love interest. Plus, I felt as if the issues this book tackled--not just PTSD but also high school--were so realistically explored. Anderson never fails to deliver, I think, and your review is gorgeous, Melissa! :)

  6. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed this one, Melissa. I did read some of those reviews where they said the relationship was forced, but I'm happy to hear you didn't feel that way. Great review!

  7. OOhh! Okay, first of all I did not realize that this is a contemporary book so BAD ME. Embarrassing. Second of all, I've not yet read anything by this author so DOUBLE BAD ME. But you have me very interested here, Melissa! Especially when I'm trying to feature contemporary books this month. I may try and see if I can get my hands on a copy of this one.

    Very interesting, the personal notes you add about the PTSD. I've read some books featuring PTSD before and I have seen it handled well based on what I have seen of PTSD in real life, but I am not as close to the military as you are, so I love seeing your thoughts on this. Great review. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I knew about it but had not given it enough attention.

  8. Beautiful review, Melissa! Like you, I've struggled to find contemporary YA books that work for me, but Anderson's Speak certainly did, and I hope to experience that again through The Impossible Knife of Memory. I'm glad that it rang true with your personal connections/associations. It's always the worst to realize an author hasn't done her homework properly on a specific subject. But Anderson seems like the type of author worth trusting in this regard.

  9. I really need to read this one, there's something about this book that makes me really want to read it! I've never read any of Anderson's books, but I definitely need to check this out ASAP.
    -Scott Reads It!

  10. Melissa-
    Thank you for the wonderful and informative review! :D I'm so glad this worked for you, and it sounds like a really pheonominal novel! Laurie Hales Anderson has definitely written some very hyped-about books, so I've been hesitant to read work of hers, but I'll definitely have to pick this up. I love how you mentioned that Haley's voice is realistic and relatable and that the PSTD aspect is not cliche.

    Thanks again for sharing! <3

    ~ Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf

  11. I didn't enjoy this one as much as you did but I agree that the txt spk was annoying. I absolutely hate it because not many people actually do type so many abbreviations as teens.

    Brilliant review, Melissa! <33

  12. I need a good contemporary read, and after reading your review I think this just may be it! Thanks!

  13. Wow, this sounds like something I would like with the romance and the PTSD storyline.

  14. For someone who has been affected by PTSD in their lives, it sounds like this book was relatable and realistic on its subject matter. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, I need to move it up my review pile!

  15. I haven't dealt with PTSD up close but I always felt this book handled it well, and I'm glad that you've confirmed it for me. Also, I adored Finn so much :)

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist


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