Review Blog

Feb 10 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Text Publishing, 2014. ISBN 9782922182227
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Post traumatic stress disorder, Returned soldiers, Homelessness, Alcohol and drugs. I read this book in late 2013, and the more I think about it the more I see it as a class set for middle secondary, as it brings in many issues relevant to teens today. Seventeen year old Hayley is not your usual school kid, she often truants for no reason, and is surly and often uncooperative. So when she is sent to the student counsellor after seven detentions, she is forced to agree to see her for a session. The counsellor makes Hayley sit up and take notice with two pieces of information, one that her father has not been at work for months and the second that her stepmother has been in touch with the school.
She rushes off to find her father, and talks Finn into driving her. She finds the man at their home, his mother's house where they have finally settled after many years of wandering, trying to avoid her stepmother and the authorities.
She finds a broken man, one suffering from delusions and anxiety, taking to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain of his life, unable to hold down a job. Hayley watches out for him like a mother hen, but she needs to start to look out for herself.
We find that her father's experiences in war have left him suffering depression, anxiety and paranoia. He is unable to settle to things, sleeps badly, waking from nightmares for which alcohol is the only antidote. Both he and Hayley have rebuffed all attempts to help them and run away from Grace Hayley's stepmother. Some of his old army buddies call by and stay the weekend reminiscing about old times, but he has a psychotic episode and kicks them out.
The two characters are beautifully drawn; the one suffering from post traumatic stress, descending into paranoia and seclusion, while she does all she can to protect him. He sees Hayley as a young girl still, one needing a protective father who controls her moves. The author shows this vividly when the man takes a swipe at the even tempered Finn who has driven Hayley home. But Hayley too suffers trauma. She cannot see the past clearly, and we see the events through her eyes, and her recollection is muddy.
A crisis occurs in which both father and daughter see no way out but suicide: he goes to the cliff near the town, she has some pills that Grace has given her for sleeping. Both people are at the end of their tether, and readers will read on to see how the pair survives their ordeal.
This great read includes a number of topical themes; post traumatic stress disorder, truanting, homeless, effects of war, the role of step parents, the role of a school, and so on. With a class these themes would engender some great discussions, including the structure of a novel when the narrator is telling her version of the truth which does not entirely connect with reality and so is unreliable.
Fran Knight

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