A Review of The Impossible Knife of Memory

What comes to mind when you think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?  

Many of us would imagine a soldier returned from war.  But very few of us would imagine the family of that soldier.  A 17-year-old daughter who can't walk through the cafeteria at school without assessing it for danger and making an escape plan in her head. The realities of PTSD - which Laurie Halse Anderson depicts with compassion and clarity - are far more overarching than we might like to imagine.  

The Impossible Knife of Memory centers on the very real, very hard to talk about problem of how to reintegrate into life once you have undergone a trauma.  The subtle plot unfolds around not only the trauma of war, but of living with a parent who went to war.  A parent who can't hold down a normal job and who flies into substance-induced rages because he is afraid of remembering.

Anderson combines real life  - full of ups and downs, first loves and huge fights, divorcing parents and untrustworthy siblings - with her unique style to create a moving and poetic picture.  Even mundane problems such as failing pre-calc are presented with nuance and depth. Interspersed with the story are flashback vignettes, worthy of Hemingway and reminiscent of In our Time.  These help to build empathy for Hayley's father Andy, whose tours in Iraq and Afghanistan have left him wounded in ways he is only beginning to understand.

Anderson's prose is straightforward and approachable.  Her dialogue is realistic and much of it occurs through text message.  But she does not talk down to teens or try to prove that she understands them.  Rather, she offers up characters full of hope and pain, agony and sarcasm, hormones and good sense, and makes them so compelling that readers will simply not question their reality.  Their choices are for the most part good ones, and often better than the choices of the adults in their lives.  But it is not because they are good little automatons; on the contrary, it is because, unlike the "zombies" they see all around them at school, they think for themselves.  They feel deeply and hurt often.  They build meaningful friendships and learn what not to do from their parents' mistakes.

I highly recommend this book to guys and gals in 10th-12th grades.  You'll get through it quickly and be glad you read it.