Impossible Knife of Memory

 
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  This is a brilliantly written, gut level satisfying story that will reach deeply into kids who hurt.

In the letter that accompanied the galley of this book, author Laurie Halse Anderson begins with a machine gun blast... "This one is personal."  At age 86 her own father still wakes up screaming with his memories of being a soldier in  Dachau when he was only 18 years old.  His life has been filled with depression, suicidal moments, drinking and an inability to hang on to a job.

So, there is the canvas with all of the paint smeared and globbed.  Fighting to hold her father together, Laurie grew up too fast, found the adult world baffling, blocked out her past and was afraid of the future until she fell in love and "found that some memories can heal."

In a world of reality television where shallow lives are played out to invite voyeurism and narcissism this story stands like a monument to real heroism, true courage and is something worth joining.

Hayley is finally in school after spending years guarding her father on the highways of his truck routes and in the private world they call a home where his drinking numbs his brain and his memories explode across smashed television sets and shattered bonds of trust and hope.

She has one friend, Gracie, and is barely passing any of her coursework.

Back on Earth while other girls are sporting fake Uggs, Hayley is counting the guns in the gun safe and wiping up the vomit.  Hayley has one friend she can count on , Gracie.   Life isn't all that simple for Gracie either.  Her father has cheated on her mother yet again and   Finn's family isn't ever going to be confused with the Cleavers.  But together Hayley and Finn are so real with each other.  They make you laugh and they create an island, a sanctuary where good takes hold.

Of course life has its own ideas of how to proceed and on an ordinary day, something changes.  Hayley's friend Gracie introduces her to a guy named Finn.  This is a guy who "gets" Hayley just about right off the bat.  That little miracle that can make any life suddenly worth living.  Someone sees you right now to the marrow.  Someone gets how you tick, what you like, what you won't like.  They pay that kind of attention.  Watching Finn and Hayley together is like watching the best in Olympic sports or the most amazing murmuration of birds up against a cold, gray sky.  Their spirits simply ring out and find each other and the connection has a promise of joy and all that is possible.  You want to go and find them and sit down and talk to them in a coffee shop somewhere.  These are real friends and just maybe they could see you too.

This story offers some sobering reality.  Kids dealing with family situations that defy rational solutions.  Kids being asked to stretch way beyond their years struggling with pain and betrayal and hope that one day their loved ones will change ...that the universe will expand to include some happy endings.

For any young person who is living the day to day hell of Hayley, this book will be an amazing gift.  Hayley's father struggles with the memories of serving in Afghanistan.  In his mind he watches people he cares about die violent deaths again and again.  His balance has been tipped way over and he loses touch with reality.  How much can he take?  What will it take to bring him to the present?  Will Hayley ever get her Daddy back?

Kids have their own hells and the bare naked truth and pain that are delivered here will hit home and the writing will feel like a surgical instrument probing the wound with unerring dexterity.  It's ugly.  It's painful.  It doesn't stop.

What else doesn't stop are the courage and the hope that Hayley holds inside. She is a silent warrior, a silent hero fighting her fight everyday.  It's an invisible war but readers will recognize the suffering and the battles.

To reach inside yourself this deeply and  to share this level of pain is an amazing act of courage for an author.  There is no shrinking here and the emotions and crises experienced by Hayley lie miles below the skin, deep in the muscles and the tissue and the heart.  To try to explain how frightened and wounded Hayley is would be profoundly difficult but Laurie has delivered us pictures and stories and in each one we can imagine the desperation and we can experience the inhuman destructiveness and the damage to the soul.

 I have the greatest respect for the heart that gave us this story.  I have the greatest respect for the talent that found the words to describe the pain.  I feel deeply grateful to Laurie Halse Anderson for taking the risk of being so real with us in the hope that others will find solace, hope and love.

Tremendous book.

304 pages         978-0147510723           Ages  14 and up

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com

 

***** 

 

"She laid down the receiver beside the phone and walked out of the room.  The voice went on talking.  She came back into the room with a cleaver in her hand.  With the cleaver she sliced through the connection, where the wires came out from the wall.  The voice ceased."

-- Abigail Tillerman's reaction when the Army calls and tells her about her son Bullet, who was fighting in Vietnam.  From THE RUNNER (1985) by Cynthia Voigt, Book 4 of the Tillerman cycle.

 

"Ooooh, war, has shattered

Many a young man's dreams

Made him disabled, bitter and mean

Life is much too short and precious

To spend fighting wars these days

War can't give life

It can only take it away"

-- Edwin Starr, "War" (1970)

 

"'Sleep tight, princess.'  Dad's face was half in shadow, angular and old-looking.  I wanted to sit on the ground next to him and lean against his knee and have him smooth my hair back and tell me that everything was going to be all right, but the awful thing was, I wasn't sure it could be.  He was sober, still drinking soda, surrounded by guys who understood everything he'd been through, but his good mood of the afternoon had vanished.  He looked lost again, haunted."

 

Laurie Halse Anderson dedicates this book to her father, a WWII veteran.  THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY is the story of teenager Hayley Kincain who has grown up dealing with the mess that is her father, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who, thanks to what he experienced while serving, is unable to live a stable, sane life.  (Actually, the guy rarely makes it through a stable, sane day.) 

 

Hayley is a young woman who has spent her formative years at risk because of what war has done to her father.  After five years of relative isolation, being "home schooled" while crisscrossing the country alongside her father in his eighteen-wheeler during what would have, otherwise, been seventh through eleventh grades, Hayley and her father have now moved back into the house in which her father was raised -- the house in which Hayley used to live when she was little -- and Hayley is spending her senior year attending the public high school.  Hayley has clearly learned a lot academically during the home schooling years -- which tells us something of who her father was before War ground him to bits.  But Hayley has necessarily blocked out a lot of memories from years of stressful living and, because of having to worry every moment about her father's violent, unpredictable behavior -- fueled by the unimaginable scenes of horror that play in his head while alcohol and drugs course through his veins -- things at school don't go all that swimmingly well for her.

 

Fortunately, Hayley meets another "weird, quiet, and strangely smart" victim of explosive family collateral damage -- Finnegan "Finn" Ramos -- and it is their complicated relationship that is both central to this story and the counterpoint to the horror shows playing out at their houses.

 

Laurie Halse Anderson's novels are always leavened with good doses of insight, sarcasm, and insightful, sarcastic humor.  This one is no exception:

"I was not a totally ignorant feral recluse.  Watching Animal Planet had alerted me to the existence of mating behavior.  Plus, having eaten a lot of bologna sandwiches in truck stops, I'd heard the kinds of things that grown men say to other grown men about these issues."

 

Anderson's peppering the story with swipes at our failure to adequately fund education, and her revealing our failure to provide substantive support services for veterans like Hayley's father -- and for the damaged kids of these damaged adults -- begs the question of what one is supposed to do.  When there is no support from outside, and family members with no training seek to keep other family members who are dealing with serious issues from drowning in their stuff, does this mean that they "enabling" them (a seemingly negative thing) or "taking care of each other" (a seemingly positive thing).   

 

"'What's an unreliable narrator?' asked Topher."

THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY begins with Hayley explaining to us that there are only two kinds of people in the world: zombies and freaks.  I was really intrigued by the manner in which Hayley sets forth this view of the world, and I was really satisfied by how the notion of zombies and freaks comes 'round again at the conclusion.

Peace, y’all.

 

Ages  14 and up   304 pages  9780670012901

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Instructor, San Jose State University, California USA
 
 
 

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