My last book of 2013, my first review of 2014…things are good so far! And in other news, I just realized that this is the very first review of this book on Amazon. That *never* happens to me. Cool beans.
Laurie Halse Anderson's The Impossible Knife of Memory has all the hallmarks of a young adult novel: boy/girl relationship, troubled parent, good friend with her own issues. If you left it at that, it would be the same old story that fills so many YA novels. Thankfully, Anderson's writing and her sense of character make this book a cut above the rest.
Hayley's job is to make sure her father stays sane and doesn't hurt himself. Or at least, that's the job she's been saddled with and she doesn't know any other way of life. Her father is a veteran suffering from PTSD; as a result, when he isn't drinking or doing drugs, he's running away to try to dull the pain. This year, her eighteenth, he's taken her home to her grandmother's house and enrolled her in school (something she hasn't been attending since riding shotgun with him while he was a truck driver). Suddenly Hayley has the school officials looking at her, expecting her to do and be things she's not used to, and her father's condition is a minefield of issues. At least Hayley has a friend in Gracie and a boyfriend named Finn; there are people out there who care what happens to her. But holding it all together may end up being too much for all of them.
Hayley's situation had me so angry I couldn't see straight; sadly enough, there are plenty of kids out there who must be the parent to their own parent, and her problems just keep multiplying. I watched as events spiraled out of control and became completely absorbed in Hayley's desperation as she tried to make everything work out while keeping her walls up. Anderson makes the story work without becoming too overwhelming or too neat; it would be interesting to see what happens as Hayley's life progresses. This glimpse into what a child of a PTSD vet may endure is illuminating and riveting, and Anderson remains one of the best young adult writers around.