Friday, December 27, 2013
Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Release date: January 7th, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: One of the best books I read in all of 2013. PREORDER THIS BABY.
For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.
I read Speak somewhere around the age of twelve or thirteen. You could argue I was too young for it (you'd be wrong), but it left the kind of impression on me that never goes away. It was full of pain, full of confusion, and full of smarts. It spoke to me in a way that few books ever did, and since the day I finished it, I've considered Anderson to be one of the finest writers of voice and feels around.
It's been a decade or so since I first read Speak. To say my taste at age twelve was less than stellar would be an understatement. What if I was completely wrong about it, and only loved it because I was young, uncultured, and uneducated in the ways of YA? Would I love The Impossible Knife of Memory as much? Was it possible for a narrator to speak to my soul as directly as Melinda Sordino did? Was I as wrong about Speak as I was jelly sandals? (God, why did I ever want jelly sandals?)
No. I wasn't wrong. Laurie Halse Anderson, you can have all my money. I'll buy all your books. Just stop hurting me with your words (except don't, because they're sublime). The Impossible Knife of Memory (TIKoM from here on out) is the kind of book that makes you laugh so hard you cry, but you're already crying because you're feeling so much, which makes you laugh because you sound like an idiot when you cry, and that makes you cry because who wants to be an idiot. Basically, I was feeling a whole bunch of things--swoons, sads, and happies. All at once.
And most of that is because of our main girl Hayley. Hayley. This girl is tough, hilarious, snarky, and I want her to be my best friend. Seriously. She's a feminist, she casually games and reads manga, she's literally too cool for school, she's loud and outspoken, and she's hiding a world of hurt and insecurities. We first meet her in detention, where she's been sent because she corrected her teacher. Did you know I once got in trouble for correcting my teacher? She got the years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign wrong. Obviously I had to intervene for the good of studentkind, and all that.
It clearly didn't take me long to relate to Hayley.
Of course, she's not exactly like me, but she's a girl I want to know. Actually, I feel like I do know her. She's too smart for her own good, and as an outsider--home-schooled by her truck-driving dad for all of middle school and most of high school--she has a unique (and devastatingly hilarious) perspective on the world of teenagers. She's finally attending a traditional high school for her senior year. She's smarter than everyone around her. She wants to fit in. She hates everyone. They're zombies. She just doesn't get it. She doesn't want to get it.
Of course, there's an ADORABLE ADORABLE ADORABLE love interest there to take an ice pick to Hayley the Snow Queen's walls. Finn. Finn. He makes math puns. He knows nothing about cars. He's afraid of heights. Hayley fascinates him but also scares the shit out of him.
He's got issues of his own, and he's just as reticent as Hayley, master of the Bitchface, to talk bout them.He's just as quick as Hayley, and if you don't melt and swoon and squeal listening to them banter, you are wrong. I had no idea Anderson could bring the swoons like this. Speak, understandably so, was a low-romance zone, but TKoM is very much a love story between two intelligent teenagers--too intelligent for their own good, really--who are trying to figure out the shitty mess their parents have left them in. Finn tries to do it with charm and a smile. Hayley does it with snark and spite. Neither approach works, and it's wonderful to watch them figure each other out.
This ship may be glorious and swoony, but it was made so by the flaws and realism of the characters. Their dates are full of sweet and nervous awkward silences. Hayley's flirting method is, basically, to be super mean, and she doesn't know how to not do that (HI SOUL MATE, you obviously attended the Gillian School of Flirting, where we learn to accidentally make men cry!). It's so cuuuuute.
While the romance was the aspect that truly won my heart, the plot of TKoM is very evenly balanced. Anderson gives all the major relationships due focus, including Hayley's best friend, Gracie (yay for passing the Bechdel test! I could have used more Gracie, though) but especially Hayley's father, Andy.
*puts on feels armor*
Okay. Okay. This relationship, you guys. It hurts so much. Memory is a major theme in this novel (obviously. Read the title, clever clogs), and both Andy, a PTSD-suffering war veteran, and Hayley, determined to forget the painful aspects of her past, struggle with it. Neither wants to remember, but remembering sneaks up on them and clobbers them hard when they're least prepared for it. And living every second of the day repressing feelings and faking functionality... well, it't not the healthiest way to live, and the two of them are barely functioning.
Andy vacillates wildly between completely present and completely gone. He's a loose cannon, he's Hayley's responsibility, and he's coming apart at the seams.
It's heartbreaking. It's gorgeous. It made me cry, and it made me want to shake Andy, but of course it's not that simple. Anderson even writes a few small passages from his point of view, of the atrocities he saw in the war, and I'd venture to say they contain some the best prose I've read... well, ever. I mean, the writing. We need to talk about the writing.
That's really all I can say about it. It's so brilliant, so eloquent, so sharp and heartbreaking and funny, that I don't dare sully it with my own words. I gaped at the page a lot in awe. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to write down my favorite passages, but I was too engrossed in the book. Rest assured, TKoM is eminently quotable.
I would have liked a bit more resolution both with Gracie and Trish, and I even wanted more knowledge of what was going on with Andy--he's so lost and so damaged it's a little difficult to understand his precise psychology. But in a way, I understood that apprach. We only see the effects of something, not the root of it. Hayley's not in her father's head; in fact, she's so lost in her own that she can only see that he's falling apart, that he's lashing out and damaging her life and his, and she doesn't know how or why.
God, I love this book. I became nearly sick with feelings. I was entirely inside Hayley's mind, I was laughing like a total lunatic at nearly every word she said, swooning over Finn, crying over Andy. You know I'm mostly a genre fiction reader. I like explosions, dragons, space ships, handsome princes in disguise. But Laurie Halse Anderson's newest book is so good it doesn't even need dragons. It's got heart.
Here are some tissues. Go read this book.