The Impossible Knife of Memory – by Laurie Halse Anderson
Hayley and Andy have never had what you’d call a normal father-daughter relationship. Andy’s been away at war most of Hayley’s life, and now he’s back, but in many ways still as far away as ever. They’re managing, for the most part. After a few years being home schooled by her father on the road, Hayley’s going to school for the first time. Andy’s working, sometimes. The nightmares make that hard. The only thing that helps is the booze – but that has consequences too, for him and his daughter both.
Hayley’s dealing, looking after herself and her dad, as far as she can. After all, she’s only ever been able to rely on herself. Letting people in, letting people help, means letting yourself get let down. Now, though, it seems she might need that help more than she needs to protect herself.
There has been, in recent years, a definite upswing in YA novels that focus on darker themes. The Fault in Our Stars remains my single favourite example. It neither shies away from nor morbidly preoccupies itself with the idea that teenagers often have more pressing concerns than their latest zany love triangle. I’m really enjoying reading more novels that dig in to real problems in an authentic way.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is another such story. It comes from a completely different place than TFiOS, and isn’t a direct comparison at all. But the similarities, for me, lay in how well Anderson, like John Green, represents these young characters – with a heartbreakingly real grasp of vulnerabilities, strengths and follies.
Hayley’s dealing with real – and scary – issues. Her father’s PTSD is severe and sometimes terrifying. Having to juggle the war zone that can erupt at home when Andy has a bad day with the mundanity of senior year is a jarring contrast, that the reader feels as keenly as Hayley. The plot progression is thoughtful, complex and ultimately gratifying, but never simple.
Hayley is a good protagonist: someone who isn’t easy to like all the time even though we understand why she’s so prickly. I had trouble deciding whether to love or hate Andy, who’s been through so much but is now putting his daughter through too much. The secondary characters were well done, with their own stories which carried on regardless of how wrapped up Hayley was in her own problems, which is always a great narrative quality.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is accomplished, thoughtful, and extremely readable. I devoured it in two big chunks, and it’s stuck with me. While it’s not really a comparison for TFiOS, it is another example of an emerging breed of YA novel that is written intelligently and for everyone, not just teens. I heartily recommend this book to teens and adults alike.