Sometimes I read a book and think how I want to write about it on the library’s blog. Yes, I actually do think about what I’m writing. Kinda. It usually goes like this: “Book good. Book make Jennifer happy. Book make reality disappear. Jennifer tell about book.” Evidently, I’m a Neanderthal in my head.
So I’m going to tell you about it.
In Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, Hayley Kincain has one more year of high school to get through and then….what? Go to college? Not when her father, a vet from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, is suffering from PTSD so fierce that she sometimes wonders if their lives are going to end up like a news story: murder/suicide. For the last five years it’s been Hayley and her father Andy on the road. Andy was a long haul trucker who homeschooled his daughter on the road. In subjects such as history and warfare she’s way ahead of her classmates. Not so much in math (Don’t worry Haley. I’m almost 40 and I haven’t used algebra once in my life since high school. I figure X should get its sh*t together and try to find Y itself). After being on the road so long, Andy decides to move Hayley into his childhood home. This is where he does drugs and drinks and suffers from severe bouts of PTSD that leave the house in ruins and the dog hiding in another room.
Now a senior in high school Hayley has to navigate friendships, who she can trust and who she won’t let past her barriers. Even her best friend Gracie doesn’t know what goes on in Hayley’s home, that she often has to clean up the puddles of puke from her father after a bender or that a friend of his who likes to hang out at the house gives her the creeps so she disappears until she’s sure he’s gone.
In walks Finn. He’s this goofy dude that Hayley hasn’t given much thought to since starting school but he’s always joking with her, inviting her places. He’s into her but she’s thinking “Nah, my dad has severe issues. He left the war but the war never left him. Why would I even think about trying to have a normal life, a normal relationship?” But you can’t help who you fall in like with. Not love. Like. That’s very important to Hayley. Most of her grades are pretty good but Hayley is combative, often correcting her teachers and she gets sent to the intrusive guidance counselor who threatens to contact Hayley’s father but Hayley can’t have this.
Andy’s erratic behavior is escalating and he refuses to go to the VA hospital for treatments, blows off his appointments, loses job after job or just doesn’t show up for work. All the other seniors are applying to colleges and awaiting acceptance letters. Part of Hayley wants to apply to a college but the thought of leaving her father on his own keeps her from imagining a real future. She sees her life spreading out before her, the years stretching on with her still living at home and taking care of her broken father. Trish, a woman who helped raise Hayley and put in her own time with Andy’s demons, tries to make a return to their lives. She had been like a mother to Hayley (whose own mother died when she was a baby) but Trish up and left one horrible night years before, something that Hayley can’t forgive. Trish had a drinking problem as well. Her fights with Andy often became physical. Hayley will do anything to keep her out of their lives.
Between keeping her father sane, keeping herself in school, and dealing with the possibility of no future, Hayley’s will to keep going is staggering. I don’t know how she does it, how she puts herself in ‘move forward’ mode. I know myself. I know I would be “Okay. Thanks. I’m done. Where’s the nearest roof I can jump off?” Laurie Halse Anderson creates characters so real you expect to bump into them at the grocery store.
Love, war, ghosts, survival. There’s even a little redemption thrown in there. The Impossible Knife of Memory has everything that a person wanting to get lost in a book is looking for. Book good. Book make happy.