Wednesday, January 29, 2014

REVIEW: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Andersen

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.


The problem with high hopes, is the high hopes part. The raving about Speak is worldwide. Laurie Halse Andersen wrote a book that won a plethora of awards, and set my expectations sky high for pretty much anything I might read by her. OH how I wish I had read Speak first, because I disliked The Impossible Knife of Memory, and I feel slightly bad about it. This book, in my opinion, was a poorly written narrative featuring a whiny, selfish, overly dramatic, main character, and a cast of equally annoying side characters.

The Impossible Knife of Memory was a book that was unnecessarily subtle at times, and then overly dramatic at others. There was no middle ground, and it felt, overall, very disjointed in it's narrative. When the characters random memories were thrown in, it was as though they belonged to a completely different book. I was 98% disconnected throughout the entire read, and couldn't have cared less about the characters or their hardships. Listen, I understand, I do. Incorporate mental illness, or just plain illness (see, A Fault in Our Stars), and a side plot of romance, into a YA novel, and you're bound to elicit reactions along the lines of "OMG, SO deep" or "What a meaningful message!". I also understand that Andersen is known for exploring the valleys of hard-to-approach subject matters. I just think, that in this case, she missed the mark. I can't vouch for Speak, but with The Impossible Knife of Memory, I felt like she was trying to do too many things at once, with way too many cliched situations. 

Hayley Kincaid was a mess of a character, in both the way she was intentionally written, and in another, completely annoying way, which I'm sure, was not as intentional. She constantly referred to her peers as "zombies, and lacked respect for almost every authority figure. We learn that this is a direct result of losing her mother at a young age, and her father's current mental state. Hayley's father, Andy, was a man suffering from the aftermath of three tours in Iraq, and a very obvious case of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Hayley, living with the repercussions of her father's denial and anger, resented her life, and her father's lack of fathering. In turn, she cared about little else-namely, her appearance and general hygiene. I understood her inner turmoil, and felt for her on that level, but I COULDN'T, would not even TRY to, understand why there were times when she left the house without brushing her TEETH. I felt like her role as the "victim" was blown way out of proportion, and instead of feeling sorry for her, I wanted to, on numerous occasions, throw large, heavy things at her. She kept having flashbacks of memories, paragraph snippits in familiar italics, that I thought were going to lead to some traumatic revelation. But it eventually added up to ...nothing: they were just memories. Her father's memories were also interspersed: memories of the war; his role in the madness. Those were probably the best, and more well written, parts of the book. Though again, they pretty much fell to the wayside in the grand scheme of things; they didn't add to my reading experience.

I couldn't get a grip on what any character looked like, nor who they were on a deeper level. Hayley was zero help on this front either. She hated her ex-stepmother, Trish, with a red-hot PASSION. Though, we never really learn WHY, or to what extent, the woman destroyed her life. I won't even discuss the romance in this book. It was typical, and horribly cliched: Cutest guy at school falls for broken, loner girl. Loner girl wonders "WHY ME". They become inseparable. Loner girl doesn't brush her teeth; marvels at the effort OTHERS have put forth TO brush their teeth (oh wait, that last part wasn't cliched, IT WAS JUST GROSS).

The Impossible Knife of Memory's ONLY highlight for me: the dialogue. It was witty at the best of times, and I'm always a sucker for witty banter (see, ANYTHING by Rainbow Rowell). 

In the end, I was defeated, and exhausted. Hayley did not redeem herself, she just turned out to be an immature little brat, who had reason for her sullen attitude, but not reason enough. I couldn't even bring myself to hold my breath at the conclusion of the book: an ending that was obviously meant to be heart-wrenching and filled with hope. I couldn't do it, I just wanted it to be over. 

I need to read Speak. Someone tell me it was better than this?

Recommended for fans of: The Fault in Our Stars, Young Adult, Contemporary, mental illness in fiction.

I received a print ARC of this book from  
Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review


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  1. Good review. I really liked Speak too. I liked this book although I felt the story was really drawn out.

  2. It would have been a great book! I have heard many reviews about this!

  3. loved your review.. I would like to try this book.

  4. I'm not fans of TFiOS, so I wont try to read this book :)))

  5. I started reading the sample for this and couldn't get into it right from the beginning.


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