Review Blog

Feb 18 2014

The impossible knife of memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Text, 2014. ISBN 9781922182227.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Memory. Hayley's veteran father has had great trouble overcoming the feelings that he has had since coming back from war. Together they had travelled the country in his truck, while he home-schooled her, but he has finally decided that she should spend her last year at school and they have settled down in the house that had belonged to her grandmother. It is an opportunity for Hayley to have a normal life, but as she struggles with school and makes friends with Finn, she finds that she has flashbacks of memory that threaten to destroy everything. Her father too is struggling with flashbacks and Hayley lives with the fear of him harming himself or others.
Anderson has written a powerful and poignant novel about the effects of war on soldiers, the way that they try to cope and the impact that it has on the family and friends left behind. Hayley had hoped that settling down would help her father deal with his PTSD, but he is unable to hold a job, has terrible nightmares and even blackouts. In vivid language, she describes just what it is like to remember the awful things that happen during war while helping the reader to understand what it is like to live with someone who has such dreadful memories. As Hayley begins to realise that she has suppressed many memories from her childhood: Gracie the girl who lived down the road, a grandmother who loved her and a stepmother who left, the reader is left pondering the nature of memory and how it can be distorted by people who are struggling to survive.
Hayley's plight with trying to help her father, her struggle to fit into school, her sarcastic remarks to teachers and her tenuous relationship with Finn, who appears to be very easy-going, are all portrayed brilliantly for the reader. As Hayley gets to know Finn and her friend Gracie better, she realises that things can be tough for many kids - Gracie's family is going through a nasty divorce and Finn's sister is a drug addict, whose attempts at rehab have broken up the family and used up all their money. However there is hope that things will become better if only trust can be established and help accepted. Hayley's loyalty to her father is tried and she needs to find forgiveness for the abandonment by Trish when she was young.
This is an outstanding novel with tough themes that are relevant to teens. It is also a compulsive read. Teacher's notes are available.
Pat Pledger

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