Can I just say that Laurie Halse Anderson is the best? Actually, don’t answer that, because I don’t care what you think, because she just is the best and I refuse to argue that point. The Impossible Knife of Memory is my third Laurie Halse Anderson read and also my favorite. For those who are curious, the other two were Speak and Catalyst. The Impossible Knife of Memory is dark, hilarious, oh so quotable, and has a truly amazing ship.
The book opens with Hayley, our perfect heroine, in detention. See, Hayley’s got quite the attitude on her and she’s not the sort of person to keep her opinions inside, though she is the kind of person to keep feelings bottled up there. Probably there wasn’t any room for her opinions to stay inside because her many feelings took up all the space. Anyway, Hayley got detention for correcting her history teacher, something he did not appreciate in the slightest. And, instead of writing “I will not be disrespectful to Mr. Diaz” like she was told to, Hayley writes “Correcting a teacher is not a sign of disrespect.” I LOVE THIS GIRL SO MUCH.
Here’s some background on Hayley. Her mom died when she was little. Her dad served two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, and came home chest deep in PTSD. For a couple of years, her dad has been driving a big rig and she’s been riding along, homeschooled (truckschooled?) in a very non-traditional manner. As her dad’s PTSD gets worse, though, they settle down for her senior year of high school, so she can go to a real school and they can leave in her grandmother’s house which was left to them.
You might expect Hayley to be completely behind because of her lack of traditional education. Instead, she’s ahead of everyone else in everything but math, in which she’s woefully lost, a fact for which I do not blame her. Of course, education via reading and discussion in a truck with her dad wouldn’t have worked for everyone, but it really fit Hayley’s learning style. Enrolled in high school, she’s chafing against the pointless assignments and the boring lectures. The only times she truly gets engaged are when true, contentious discussions arise in her classes.
One of the many reasons I adore Laurie Halse Anderson’s books is the realism; she depicts teens, zits and all. So few YA books ever make any mention of zits, which are present on almost every teen’s face at least once in a while. At one point, Hayley’s frustrated to be dealing with stress pimples. In addition to that, there’s the lack of self-confidence, even in a girl as otherwise snarky and self-possessed as Hayley. There are awkward silences, even in my perfect ship, which only makes me love it more.
So my ship. Hayley meets this guy Finn, because he’s friends with Gracie, who adopted Hayley since they were friends as children. At first, Hayley basically ignores Finn, but he will not be ignored. I mean, he’s so not going to pass up on a girl as smart and sassy as Hayley. They both have absurd levels of knowledge about vocabulary and history. He plans the most adorable and awkward first date in the history of YA and he wears her down with his adorableness and their many things in common. They alternately banter and are rather awkward. Sometimes they fight, because they have a real relationship with its own problems. Oh, and, best of all, their personalities don’t change when they become a couple. They’re still them. Also, Finn is like the anti-stereotypical YA love interest. Though he’s attractive, it’s in a skinny with glasses way. He also refuses to drive over the speed limit, is petrified of heights, is adorably afraid that Hayley will hate him, and is inclined to make math puns. How can you not love this boy?
What Left Me Wanting More:
Though The Impossible Knife of Memory is a five star book from an emotional standpoint, I do have a few quibbles that made me go for the 4.5. First, the secondary characters could have been better developed. I really only care about Hayley and Finn, not even Hayley’s dad or Trish getting enough development to be thoroughly interesting to me. Gracie basically drops off the map entirely partway through the book. Second, though I like the PTSD elements a lot on the whole, I don’t feel completely sold. Partly, this relates to quibble one, but I also didn’t feel like the short chapters of her dad’s point of view, differentiated by italics, really helped me understand or sympathize with him. I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the closing of the ARC with Hayley’s father and Trish.
The Final Verdict:
To sum up, you should all be reading this book. Okay, maybe not all, but if you’re the sort of reader who, like me, enjoys dark contemporaries that can make you laugh while they break your heart a bit, then GO PREORDER THIS NOW.