Certain books stay with you long after you close the cover; these same books are almost impossible to put down when you are reading them. And re-reading them, time after time. The Impossible Knife of Memory is one of those books.
I read this novel twice, devouring it the first time, galloping through, reading so quickly that I missed whole sentences in my rush to find out what happened next. As soon as I finished it, I turned back to the first page, and read it again slowly, absorbing the words. And I cried in exactly the same places, even though the second reading told me so much more.
Hayley, 17 years old, is living in a house for the first time in five years. She has been on the road as her father’s navigator in his rig, as he tries to escape the demons that have haunted him since his tours overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. She is self-taught and homeschooled, until her father Andy decides it is time to settle down for her final year of high school. Is this a chance for her to have a normal life?
Although the demons had been present on the road, neither Andy nor Hayley was prepared for the onslaught that awaited them at his family home in Belmont, New York. And not just his demons. Hayley has some ghosts of her own that she has been avoiding, and they seem determined to make a reappearance.
Hayley and her father are great characters. Hayley is a teen thrown into unfamiliar territory, with too much responsibility and pressure. Unused to the structure of school, she does her best to keep her head above water. She is smart, sarcastic and witty, and afraid that Andy’s secrets will come out. She loves him fiercely, even as she hates him. Hayley’s interactions with her father’s ex-girlfriend Trish were selfish and hateful, and true to life.
Andy’s days are unpredictable; one can start out promising, and end in a drunken blackout at the tiniest trigger. He cannot escape his memories, and has given up trying.
Trish, Finn (the new boyfriend), Gracie (the old friend), and the teachers are all strong secondary characters in the narrative. Each deals with his or her own baggage, which sometimes distracts Hayley, and other times adds to her stress.
Laurie Halse Anderson channels the teenage mind and voice so accurately, her books read like true life biographies. And, in some ways, the subject matter in this book is autobiographical; according to her notes at the end, she lived with a father who suffered from PTSD, long before it was recognized as such. Her truth and sincerity ring throughout the story.
My only disappointment in the whole book is the ending. For me, it was too neat and tidy. The book – Hayley’s life – was messy. The story seems to change direction in the final chapter.
The book can be frightening at times. The subject matter is tough. It is appropriate for all teens, but does have some disturbing images of violence, alcohol and drug use, although not too graphically described.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is published by Penguin Books.