Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

18079527Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Date of Publication: January 7, 2014
Pages: 391
Source: Library

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 began this story quite unremarkably. I wasn't very into the plot, nor the characters. I just didn't get it and my emotional connection was lacking. It took one scene in order to turn the tide. It was an incredibly heartfelt scene between father and daughter that was so awkward and sad, and Andy said something so tragic, and I guess I could relate to it more than I'm comfortable to admit.

The true star of The Impossible Knife of Memory is the father-daughter relationship. Family and all its intricacies, all the hate and love, was on full display. I thought it was incredibly genuine. I fell for Hayley and her need to take care of her father. I fell for Andy and how lost he was in the world.

It was the first time I read about a character with PTSD. I didn't know too much about PTSD but I do know that war has impacts on people. It was heartbreaking to read the little bits about Andy as he remembered what happened. He was a brilliant person but sometimes he faded as his past haunted him. Reading about Haley as she protected him, and seeing how strange their family was, and yet how unique they were, made the story so genuine.

Hayley was someone whom I considered quite bitter and reserved and she grew on me. Hayley had the previously fatal flaw of thinking everyone besides her was so typically mainstream and zombies while somehow she was different and special and real. Normally, I frown upon this kind of arrogance, but for Hayley it worked because it was explainable. Her character developed and grew. She was faced with many temptations and while she was a bitch sometimes, she was sweet other times. She didn't know she had a future and seeing her grow was great.

There was even a romance, which I'm not normally a big fan of, but in this case it worked well. I don't understand how they got so attracted to each other so fast, or the initial spark, but I don't deny that their love was genuine. Finn was adorably complex and intelligent. He's funny and charming and the type of guy I can get behind because he had so much personality. I liked that the people Hayley had relationships with were actually real people. They had backgrounds and concerns in story lines that weren't all about Hayley.

So obviously, characterization was strong. This was effectuated through awesome writing. The writing never took away from the story and was emotional when it needed to be and detached when it needed to be. Furthermore, the plot was pretty good. I'm not much of a contemporary reader to begin with so I was pleasantly surprised when The Impossible Knife of Memory proved to be an engrossing read. The ending was especially powerful, and you could see it coming but I still teared up. That was a little problematic because I was reading it on a screaming bus of mature seniors on the way to a field trip to an amusement park. I tried so hard to keep the tears in, and I think the ending was well done because it allowed for the possibility of failure or success.

I shouldn't be surprised to enjoy this book, but I was. I think it was a good story, and it gets 3 stars.




  1. Cool beans! We've read a couple other Laurie Halse Anderson books and been impressed by the writing and characterization as well, so your commentary comes as no surprise, just happy reassurance. :)

    1. That's what she's pretty well known for! I shouldn't have worried after the slow start. ;)


  2. I'm glad to hear that despite reading it in the least positive environment, you managed to enjoy this one, P.E.! This one I have in the wish list and I'm hoping to get to it sooner than later!

    1. I hope you enjoy it! Especially the awesome father-daughter relationship.



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