Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory


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.

I really need to stop reading books dealing with mental illnesses. It’s probably bad for my health. The Impossible Knife of Memory is the next on the list. It follows the story of a girl, Hayley, whose father has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some aspects of the book I found confusing and superficial, but in the end, the way Anderson writes just makes the book kind of impossible to hate.

First to the positives. I had never heard of Anderson before, but the instant I finished the first page, I could tell that she was an experienced writer. There was the flair that comes with experience, and the writing was paced perfectly. It was fluent, fluid and flowing. Not once did I feel the story was stilted because of the writing style, something that can sometimes be a real problem with debut writers.

The Impossible Knife of Memory was a little confusing sometimes, when it dealt with the main character. It was established at first that Hayley had no memory of her childhood, something that her brain had done to block out her mother’s death and her stepmother’s desertion. Once, Hayley woke up with scenes of war in her head, guns blazing and men screaming only to realise that her father was playing a shooting downstairs. She was constantly paranoid of young, adolescent guys, scared that they would attack her. Whenever she walked past a group of men, she would form three escape/attack plans in her head, meticulously detailed (well done to Anderson for truly taking us into the mind of Hayley so well here). Then she would walk past and nothing would happen. She was terrified of shopping malls, and when she walked into one, she left with a panic attack (at least, the symptoms suggest so).

I didn’t really understand what was going on this. Did Hayley have PTSD from her mother’s death or her stepmother leaving? Was she just scared of opening up to people? Why did her brain block out all memories of her childhood? I just didn’t understand it, and it took away from the main plot a little. I will say this though. Throughout the book, Hayley regains her childhood through shards of fragmented memory, and half a page will be devoted to describing the memory. The way these memories are written is amazing. In fact, they really indicated for once and all that I was reading an experienced writer. If they were all taken and put into a short story collection, I would buy it, read it, and be satisfied with it. Because the stories were just exquisite.

Ok. Positives over (although I guess that the PTSD Hayley point wasn’t really a positive).

I didn’t like Hayley. And it’s a little hard to really connect with the book when you can’t connect with the main character. One of the main problems I had with Hayley was that she categorised all people into two groups:

There are two kinds of people in this world:

1. zombies

2. freaks.

Only two. Anyone who tells you different is lying. That person is a lying zombie. Do not listen to zombies. Run for your freaking life.

Another lesson: everyone is born a freak.

The “zombies” were the people on the highest rung of the social ladder. I had nothing wrong with that. But what I hated was that she painted all the zombies with the same brush. Do you play sport? You’re a jock, you’re a zombie. Do you wear makeup? You’re a zombie. Do you wear miniskirts when it’s cold? You’re a zombie. I also found this terribly hypocritical of her; because she is friends with Grace, who wears makeup and miniskirts; and girlfriend to Finn, who is an amazing swimmer and a lifeguard. She was quick to judge and didn’t really find out much about the “zombies” that she hates because she hates. This part of her was shallow and annoying.

Another part of The Impossible Knife of Memory that wasn’t really outstanding was the romance. As with nearly all YA novels, there has to be a romance in there somewhere, but this one was nothing special. The love interest, Finn, was a bit unrealistic, in the fact that he liked Hayley because he liked her. In fact, now that I think more about it, a lot of things in The Impossible Knife of Memory are just given to the reader, and the reader is expected to just take it on faith. With a little bit more effort, a writer of experience and skill like Anderson could have easily told us why Finn liked Hayley. She could have so effortlessly taken us into the mind of Finn with a few simple words. But she didn’t. And so, Finn seemed liked a book character. Not a person.

My last and most petty concern was the texting in the book. Ugh. I’m a teenager. I have friends. I text people. Nbdy txts lyk dis unlz deyz wan 2 annyz dere frenz bikozzzz it ssurz annyz meez. I’m going to stop this now because autocorrect is going through the roof. But yeah. Do you want an example?

he wnts 2 no if yr gay





want to go out with me?


chill, im not gay

???? r u shur

you’re not my type G

wats yr typ?

people who can spell

fin sez he kn spl

I can’t really say much about how the PTSD was portrayed, because I don’t have much of a knowledge of the disorder, however, I will say this: I don’t think I have seen so many dysfunctional families in a single novel ever before. I think every character we were familiarised with (and that’s only about 5 people) had a volatile family background. Except Turner, Claire’s boyfriend.

So I think that’s all my problems with this book. In a nutshell, the prose was good but the characters let down the book. They were shallow, quick to anger and unrealistic. Teenagers actually do know how to text, and the romance seemed a little fake. The prose, however, was perfectly paced, the metaphors utilised to compliment the book as best as they could, and the experience of the author was evident throughout the book. There were the good parts and there were bad parts. It’s a very so-so book.

Rating:  7/10

The Impossible Knife of Memory is out now. Buy at your local bookstore.

The Info:

  • Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
  • Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Hardcover: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (January 2, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670012092
  • URL: AmazonGoodreads

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