The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson has become an instant shoe-in for my personal list of top five favorite books that I’ve read this year. This breathtaking story is not afraid – in classic Anderson style – to hit the heavy issues face on while weaving in a beautiful element of hope and survival.
The story centers on Hailey, a high school senior who has spent the last several years of her life on the road truck driving with her father. They’ve finally decided to settle down in a small town for her last year of school, but Hailey’s father has a seriously bad case of PTSD after his tours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. His drunken, suicidal outbursts threaten to pull Hailey down with him, but luckily, she meets Finn, a fellow high school senior who charms the socks off her even if she is very reluctant to admit it.
Beyond how honestly and respectfully this story treats PTSD, what I appreciated most about it was how Anderson took the time to show how each character’s personal life was not perfect, not by a long shot. Between Hailey, Finn, and their friends, each is shown to have a family falling apart at the seams so that just when you start to believe one of them has it bad, someone else comes along and proves that comparable suffering is the most ridiculous thing. Everyone in this story suffers to the point of utter exhaustion and everyone in this story finds love and comfort, demonstrating how strongly we all deserve to be understood for what we go through. It’s a beautiful portrayal of what real love and support should be.
And of course, Anderson is a master at tackling the tough subjects in this one: PTSD (made even stronger by haunting first person flashbacks and intensely scary moments of rage by Hailey’s drunk father), divorce, financial strain, academic failure, fear of the future, alcoholism, and more. Every single issue brought up is given appropriate time to be explored and treated with care so that you don’t end the book feeling like any one point was denied the ability to exist and function to its fullest potential.
Finally, the characters are stunning, just absolutely stunning. Hailey pulls off cynicism and sarcasm in a surprisingly endearing way and the unlimited extent of her love for her father chilled me right to my soul. Additionally, Finn pulls off the ever endearing boyfriend with perfection while remaining heartbreaking in his own family drama, and best friend Gracie brings a harsh dose of reality to how horrible divorce can be on kids.
However, readers beware – this book is gutsy and the issues raised are extremely sensitive. Hailey’s father suffers in the extreme and his moments of drunkenness – no, even his moments of clarity – are brutal to read through. But if you have a stomach for it, I implore you to pick up Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory. It will enlighten your mind, challenge your conceptions, and give you plenty of hope for whatever future you’re heading toward (or possibly, running away from).