There are a few trustworthy young adult authors that I know before I open the pages of their books I will be entranced by their writing, storytelling, and I will be unable to put the book down. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of those author’s and it took less than 6 hours to read (thanks to another snow day) Anderson’s recent novel The Impossible Knife of Memory.
The story is a gripping tale told from the perspective of Hayley, a high school senior in upstate New York, struggling to keep her father intact after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Discharged from the military and awarded a purple heart, Hayley takes care of her father and carries the weight of his nightmares and PTSD. Her mother died when she was younger, and she and her father recently moved to be more grounded and live a “close to normal” life. Hayley struggles to get through her senior year of high school, hiding her and her father’s secrets from those who reach out to her. Entranced by Hayley’s keen observations of the teachers and students around her, her sarcastic attitude, and her strength, the reader is not the only one who takes an interest her. Finn, a friend of a childhood friend, is smitten with Hayley but she continuously pushes him away. Finn’s persistence, matched sarcasm, and kindness bring the two together.
Hayley’s teen attitude seems like a type of girl that I have read about in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and even Bella in the Twilight Saga, but Hayley’s feistiness does not detract from a memorable character who struggles daily to keep it together for father and those around her so not to draw attention. But one can only keep the secrets and lies from bubbling over. Hayley’s story is a page turner and at the last 50 pages a sob story! I am not talking about tears that puddle out of your eyes, but one of the loud gasps and sobs where your eyes flood with tears you cannot read on. But you wipe away the tears and read on searching for some sort of happy ending and the truth.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing is truthful and not contrived. Memories are presented as vignettes throughout the story from Hayley’s father’s traumatic combat memories put into light the millions of young men and women currently struggling with PTSD and regaining some sense of normalcy after numerous tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Below are some links about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Informational Texts to pair with this harrowing novel:
Definition of PTSD from the National Institute of Mental Health
Hard Road Back: A series of articles and videos chronicling the return of military vets compiled by The New York Times
Lesson Plan: Challenges and Accomplishments of Veterans from The Learning Network Blog
Lesson Plan: Comparing Veterans’ Experiences with War Poetry from The Learning Network Blog