the impossible knife of memory

Cover for the impossible knife of memory by Laurie halse AndersonHaving spent grades 7-11 in the cab of a semi-truck, home-schooled on the road by her father, Hayley Rose Kincain doesn’t know the rules for high school, where flaunts, taunts, and poses are all part of what she calls the zombie life.  Refusing to be colonized by the hive at Belmont High, Hayley spends a good part of her senior year in detention for correcting teachers’ mistakes and for committing other rule infractions.   Quiet, gawky, awkward, strangely smart, and “adorkable”—according to her friend Gracie Rappaport—Hayley wants to have a good time and make the world a better place.

Those aspirations are nearly impossible, though, for a seventeen year old who has to play the parenting role for a father suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Chased by phantoms, damaged, and with sand sifting through the holes in his brain, Captain Andy tries to outrun his pain.  Although he drinks, fights, and smokes pot to mummify the memories and keep the crazy in its cage, the impossible knife of memory tatters his sanity.  Two tours inIraq and two tours in Afghanistan earned him the Purple Heart when an IED blew up his truck, his brain, and his career.  Now, he turns into a werewolf even if the moon isn’t full.

Trying to find normal and hoping to hide this insane part of her life, Hayley struggles to hold herself together, wondering: Aren’t parents supposed to be in charge? Aren’t they supposed to make all the decisions?  But as she discovers from her friends, maybe there is no such thing as a matched set of unscarred parents.  Standing on the edge of despair and living in constant fear of her dad’s next episode, Hayley wonders if pills won’t blur the pain and help her lock down memories that keep trying to seep out.  Some of the memories smell like lemons, face powder, and ginger cookies and sound like bees humming in Grandma’s garden.  But reeking of violence, blood, and abandonment, others sound like screams louder than sirens, holes being punched into sheetrock, and wood cracking as an axe rips through a door.

When she meets Finnegan Ramos—who has green eyes, “the same color green you can see in the summer if you lie under an oak tree and look up at the sun coming through the leaves” (62)—Hayley learns about love.  Having a friend and confidante takes some of the horror out of her life and replaces it with happiness.  Hayley hopes as long as she’s touching Finn, she won’t drown, but her own worst yesterdays keep replaying insider her head.  Even Finn–who has secrets of his own–wonders if she’s beyond resuscitation as she attempts to assess every potential threat, poised to act.

In the impossible knife of memory, Laurie Halse Anderson pens a chilling tale that makes psychological pain poignant and palpable.  This book not only personalizes the horror of war but explores the ways in which a parent’s demons can damage their children.  The novel leaves readers wondering how a child can escape, rebuild, and grow beyond the dark and violent secrets.

  • Posted by Donna

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