The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
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This YA contemporary novel is about a teen girl and her veteran father. He’s struggling with war PTSD, and she’s dealing with his condition as well as her own version of PTSD from the tumultuous and abusive home she grew up in, and her stepmother’s abandonment. She meets a boy who’s pretty much perfect and he treats her really well even though she’s really rude and abrasive at first, and doesn’t treat him well because she doesn’t know how. She’s a kind of annoying character, especially in the beginning, taking prickliness to an extreme, although you know it’s only because she’s so traumatized. It makes the relationship seem unrealistic. The boyfriend is a super hot swimmer with lots of girl groupies at school, and he picks this easily offended, socially inept wreck of a girl who says she’s not pretty? Maybe in a novel, but not in a real high school.

Besides the unrealistic nature of this boyfriend/savior, the book does a good job depicting PTSD and the family dynamics surrounding it. It’s an important topic and I’m glad books like this are out there because they might help kids in families who are struggling. A major theme in the book seemed to be how parents whose own lives are a mess make lots of problems for their kids. Besides the protagonist’s dad, her best friend’s parents are going through a nasty divorce, and the boyfriend’s parents are enabling his addict sister, at the cost of savings earmarked for his college education. That part of the book definitely did seem realistic. Anderson is a good writer, and her characters, with the possible exception of the swimmer boyfriend, are living and believable. It’s a good, but not great example of the YA contemporary genre.

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