books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Since her father returned from active duty in Iraq, Hayley and her father, Andy, have been on the road.  They never stay long in any one place, and it’s probably a good thing: Andy’s PTSD is crippling, and Hayley lives in constant fear that he will hurt himself or someone else.  When Andy brings them to the town–and house–he grew up in so that Hayley can have a normal life and finish high school in one place, she wonders if anything will actually change.

Strong characterization, pitch-perfect storytelling, and completely timely and relevant themes are explored in this latest gripping novel from Laurie Halse Anderson.  Readers will find themselves riveted by Hayley’s story and will be rooting for both her and her father to heal themselves.  This is a standout novel.

Hayley narrates nearly the entire book, but Andy is given snippets, as well.  His vignettes provide the fodder for his PTSD and help the reader understand the hell he is living.  Apart from these brief moments in Andy’s head, though, readers are privy to Hayley’s snarky, oftentimes searing narration about her life and experiences.  She copes with her feelings of abandonment and also her fear by being a skeptic of the highest order, but as she allows herself to get closer to people in town, she starts to lose her edge.

Anderson plays with many different things here, including how to balance perception and memory.  Hayley struggles to reconcile her memories with what has actually happened, and it’s exceedingly well done here.  There’s a great deal of nuance to be found in the characters here, and Anderson doesn’t offer her readers easy answers or pat character stereotypes.

This is an excellent exploration of the ripple effect war and PTSD can have on people and families.  Anderson handles the topic sensitively and effectively.  Readers young and old should find something to love about this one.


The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking Juvenile: 2014.  Library Copy.

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