Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Page Count: 391
Source/Format: Library book!
Keywords: mental illness, PTSD, soldier

After too many tours overseas, Hayley's father Andy returns with a bad leg and the incapability to stay in one place for to long. To escape the demons that have followed him back to American soil, he takes her with him around the country in a big rig. Five years later, he decides it's finally time to settle into a normal life. It's hard to be "normal" with Hayley's life. Years on the road have stripped her knowledge of 'The Rules' with her peers, and she is more of a parent to her father than her father is to her. She is the only one that's there to stand by him as he suffers through intense night terrors and when his temper goes sour. As he turns to drugs and alcohol, she starts to wonder how much a daughter is supposed to be able to take from her father, and at what price?
A few days after we moved in, Daddy got unstuck from time again, like the Pilgrim guy in Slaughterhouse. The past took over. All he heard were exploding IEDs and incoming mortar rounds; all he saw were body fragments, like an unattached leg still wearing its boot, and shards of shiny bones, sharp as spears. All he tasted was blood.
These attacks (he'd have killed me if I used that work in front of him, but it was the only one that fit) had been getting worse for months. They were the only reason I went along with his ridiculous plan to quit trucking and settle down into a so-called "normal life." I let him think that he was right, that spending my senior year in a high school instead of riding shotgun in his big rig was a practical and exciting idea.
Truth? I was terrified.
So far I've only read two of Laurie Halse Anderson's novels, and it's been a mixed bag. I loved the powerful and emotional Speak, but was kinda sorta disappointed by Prom. Before The Impossible Knife of Memory came out, there was a lot of hype surrounding it, and it definitely seemed like it was more in the vein of her book that I loved so much. When I saw it at the library a couple of weeks ago, I HAD to give it a try. I started it last night and finished it this morning. With both of her books before, regardless of my feelings about them, I was able to fly through them, and this was the same. Anderson's novels just have a great flow to them and perfect pacing that makes them hard to put down. Even in moments where something dramatic wasn't happening, there was some engaging dialogue to pull the story along. And after reading the clunky dialogue in The Whole Golden World, I appreciated the witty and natural dialogue between the characters in this story. I was also happy that we were carried through a range of emotions, and didn't linger too hard or too long on intense moments. For every scene that made my eyes prick with tears, there was a scene that made me laugh out loud. Sometimes in the thick of an emotional scene, there would be something or a remark from someone that would make me chuckle or roll my eyes before I went back to wanting to cry.
"No!" I stood up. "And now you're all 'I'm the dad' but it doesn't mean anything because all you do is sit on your ass and drink. You're not a after, you're--"
He grabbed the front of my sweatshirt. I gasped. His jaw was clenched tight. The bonfire danced in his eyes. I had to say something to calm him down, but he looked so far gone I wasn't sure he'd hear me. He tightened his grip, pulling me up on my tiptoes. His free hand was balled into a fist. He had never hit me before, not once.
The wind shifted, swirling the smoke around us.
I braced myself. 
For the first little while, I really liked our narrator Hayley. A lot of the time she is closed off or cruel, but we can definitely understand where she is coming from. Her mother died when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother and her father's girlfriend, an alcoholic named Trish who eventually splits and fills Hayley with distrust and hostility. I appreciated Hayley's witty remarks and sometimes playful cruelty, because I knew there was a reason behind it. About halfway through the book, I started to see that she has a lot of misplaced anger. At one point, in the school parking lot, her love interest, Finn, blatantly ogles a girl in a miniskirt, with Hayley and their friends right next to him. Their friend is quick to defend Finn by saying that he was "thinking with his other head." The defense was unnecessary, though, because instead of being mad at her boyfriend's wandering eye, she gets pissed at the girl for having the audacity to wear a miniskirt to school and being a slutty bitch. Then there's Trish. SPOILERS AHEAD!!: Trish is Hayley's father's ex-girlfriend, and the target for a lot of her hatred. Even her name and the thought of her influence over her father is enough to send Hayley into a panic attack. We learn that Trish was an alcoholic and a cheater who left during a particularly awful argument with Hayley's father. As Andy's mental health deteriorates in the present, Trish makes a reappearance to try and help Andy heal. Trish admits her wrong doing to Hayley, apologizes, and the progress in her life is evident. She's sober now and has a degree and a job. After all of this, and all of the help Trish offers to Hayley and her father, Hayley still saves her number in her phone as 'Bitch.' It took too long for her relationship with Trish to evolve into something positive. END SPOILERS.
Things were complicated even more by the fact that there was something weird about Finn. Not zombie weird. He was more of a cyborg with a vivid imagination. But he'd spent enough time around the zombies to adopt some of their ways. He knew The Rules. I didn't. 
The love interest, Finn, left a lot of mixed feelings. His entrance into Hayley's world was very sudden. It was like he just showed up one day and decided he wanted to be her boyfriend pretty quickly. There was no build-up to his dedication to her. He met her, and then was relentless in his attempts to get her attention or spend time with her. Especially with her unique (read: closed-off) way of dealing with people that aren't her father or her best friend Gracie, I was surprised that there was something about her that hooked him right away. Once he was there though, I appreciated his presence. Besides the mini-skirt incidence. He tells funny calculus jokes. He gives her opportunities to trust him, and his loyalty is unwavering. Even more, he has several run-in's with Andy when he is in the middle of a breakdown and is undeterred. He challenged Hayley and pushed her out of her comfort zone, and I thought that was important given the fact that she walks on egg shells at home.
One side of my heart tha-thumped like I was a little kid and he'd just come home and I could run across the hangar floor when the order releasing the troops was shouted, and Daddy would pick me up so I could hug him around the neck and, nose to nose, look into his sky-colored eyes and tell him that I missed him so much. The other side of my heart froze in panic because now I was old enough to understand where he got that limp and why he screamed in his sleep and that something inside him was broken. I didn't know how to fix it or if it could be fixed.
Andy was the perfect example of being able to like unlikeable character's. I feared him throughout the majority of this novel. We witness several times his intense mood swings, and the delicate way that Hayley has to choose her words around him. He's prone to violence and indulges himself in heavy drinking and marijuana. Throughout the book, there are snippets told from Andy's perspective. These illustrate the things he saw when he was overseas fighting in the war, and helps us gain extra insight as to how deep his PTSD goes. Anderson's use of a returned soldier was timely and eye-opening. We see him at his high moments and at his very, very low moments, and even though I was terrified of him, I was rooting for him to pull through and get the help he needed to carry out a productive life.

The Impossible Knife of Memory was timely and intense. Anderson does not shy away from showing how Andy's PTSD affects Hayley, and how deep and bad it can get. I thoroughly enjoyed the witty banter between Hayley and her friends, but Hayley's misplaced anger and hostility in a couple of scenes turned me off to her. Anderson's pacing in this novel was brilliant, and she perfectly layered scene's to give us an even mix of emotions, which made this book unputdownable.
Have you read this yet? What did you think? 

1 comment:

  1. I haven't yet read anything by Laurie Halse Anderson. I know I need to read Speak--I've seen the movie and enjoyed it, so I will read it sometime! But I'm sometimes kind of hesitant to try books that deal with heavy issues. This one sounds heavy, but maybe not as heavy as some other issues books that I've seen out there. I might have to give this one a try, although I'm not cool with slut shaming. As long as that kind of behavior (and other major flaws with a character) are either remedied by the end or at least acknowledged as wrong, I'll be okay with it. But I do like what you said about Andy being an example of being able to like unlikable characters. You've definitely made me give this book another thought. Great review!