Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking, 2014. 391 pages.
High School: 9-12
CML Juvenile Fiction: JuvFic Anderson
For the past five years, Hayley has traveled the country with her dad in his big rig, but when he decides that it’s time for them to settle down and lead normal lives, they head back to his hometown and move into the house that she lived in as a child. Adjusting to her new life is difficult, if not impossible. Having never gone to high school, Hayley finds herself unable to adjust to what’s expected of her, and her father soon slips into the nightmares of his time as a soldier of war. She longs for the day when she and her dad can hit the road again and leave everything behind them, but as things begin to spiral out of control, Hayley must face their demons head on instead of running from the past.
The Impossible Knife of Memory illustrates the devastation that many families face after a loved one returns home from war. Hayley’s attempts to help her dad adjust to civilian life are realistic and heart breaking, and her struggle to understand relationships with people other than her father is subtle enough to not be overbearing. Anderson shows the seriousness of PTSD in a digestible way that readers are able to understand and sympathize with and proves that loving someone is not always enough to save them. Hayley has to learn that relationships are complex and that it can be extremely difficult to open up and trust other people. No matter how perfect a family may look on the outside, each has its own set of problems.
While this book would be accessible to a wide range of young adult readers, it would be of particular use in illustrating the complexities of what happens to soldiers and their families after they return home from war. On a broader level, young adults who have parents suffering from severe mental health conditions, alcohol/drug abuse, or other similar issues which makes the child feel the need to play the role of the parent would also find it of bibliotherapeutic use. Readers who enjoy romances will appreciate how Hayley’s and Finn’s home lives impact their relationship as well as their efforts to find a way to be together.
Amanda Melilli - Head, Curriculum Materials Library