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)
Series: No
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*

 Brace yourselves. too many damn feels. iae LUKE FEET'S‘ HR L ll

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.


  1. Okay, I totally will read this book. Sounds amazing. The relationship between Hayley and her father in particular... can't wait.

    -P.E. @ <a href='">The Sirenic Codex</a>

  2. I wanted to read this book as soon as I found out about it(c'mon it's LAUREN HALSE ANDERSON!!!) and you just sealed the deal, mi amiga. I can't wait to get my grubby hands on this!

  3. Aw. YAY. Amazing review Gillian. <3 Thank you for sharing your feelings about this book. I must admit to not caring about it at all until just reading your review.. now I need to pre-order it :) Sounds awesome. And amazing romance? Yes please. No triangle? Hope so, hih :D Doesn't sound like it, so that it good. Yeah. I think I would enjoy this. Just, no evil ending, yes? Anyway. Amazing review :D So glad you loved it so much.

  4. Oh my god. Ok. I read a different review for this book a week or two ago and didn't think I wanted to read it, but you've sold me. To me, Anderson is like a writing goddess, so whenever she comes out with something new I'm afraid that it's not going to live up to my expectations. I've been feeling that way about this book, but CLEARLY I have nothing to worry about because your review is amazing and ahhh. I got feels just from reading your review, so obviously this book is going to be fantastic.

  5. Yep, now I need to read this book. You have sold it to me completely. Come here my next contemporary read!
    *goes to check preorders and possibilities of ARCs*

  6. I love that you had so many feels while reading this book. Your review just makes me absolutely certain that I'm going to have to check this one out! It sounds like it's going to punch me, break me and then put me back together again -- and it's been entirely too long since a book has really done that.

  7. The good thing about saving this review for so long is that I've seen grumpy reactions to this book that make me sad, but you can make me smile again. IT IS ALL ON YOU, GILLIAN.

    Mostly I don't think there's too young for a book, at least not by age. Some 12 year olds can handle deep shit. I was off reading A Clockwork Orange at that point, and I'm mostly not a serial killer.*

    Since I read Impossible Knife I did buy most of her books. GOOD LIFE CHOICES.

    I love, love, love Hayley. Though, now that I think about it, the freaks and zombies thing was a little out of left field. Still, loved her. So much.

    FINN IS THE BEST. I will hear nothing to the contrary. Math puns. And adorableness. Does he have posters of sexy ladies on his wall? Yes. Does he make a period joke? Yes. But COME ON he is a teen boy and that describes most of them, but he makes math puns and he is smart and he will only get better with age. Give the poor boy a break.

    Secret: that meme terrifies me. Like legit.

    *this is a joke. I am entirely not a serial killer.

  8. Can I start by saying how much I love that title?
    (Shh, jelly sandals were the shiz. Plus, they're a step up from Crocs.)

    Hayley sounds like a class A BAMF. ZOMG, Master of the Bitchface. I love her already. Ha, math puns. I'm not exactly a fan of the subject, but math puns are one of the few fond memories I have of those classes.

    Mean flirting is still a step up from my method. I don't think I even flirt because I basically have zero skills. I'm that girl who kind of stares and mentally wants him to look over and when he does I turn away and mentally curse at myself and my wimpiosity. I'm just like SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN IMMEDIATELY YOU'RE MAKING ME UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUR ATTENTION.

    Did you draw that tear on Ned's face yourself? I guess it's more of an icicle because winter and the North and direwolves and all.

    This book sounds heart-breaking. And amazing. And want-so-much-it-hurts-a-little. And have-read-it-and-hurts-a-lot. Have you read the ending of the finished copy? Because I heard she changed it so maybe there's a little more resolution.


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