Goodreads synopsis: For the past five years, Hayley Kincain 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?
I had an initial bias against this book because I am very anti-military, so I tried to go into it objectively, and I ended up really enjoying it. I was temporarily put off when Hayley says she’s pro-drafting (which was redeemed by Finn saying he’s anti-drafting), but The Impossible Knife of Memory isn’t preaching pro-military ideas, which was good.
I was expecting to be annoyed by Finn and Hayley’s relationship because most YA relationships are cheesy and predictable, but Finn and Hayley as a couple felt very real to me. I think that romantic relationships tend to be at the forefront of a lot of YA novels, which makes sense because kids in high school are in a world where dating is a big deal, but relationships are often really a background issue made to seem like the most important issue in a young adult’s life because the actual most important issue affects their relationships. I like the way that Anderson balances relationship challenges with other challenges. Anyway, I was confused about what brought them together in the first place, but ignoring that, I bought their relationship.
Hayley certainly bothered me a lot. I don’t agree with categorizing people into nothing more than “zombies and freaks”. (My friends are sick of hearing me say, “Generalizations are bad.”) But, she’s a teenager. Teenagers often have very narrow views of the world, especially the ones who think they don’t, and I can forgive them for that. I also really appreciated her many feminist remarks that a lot of other YA authors make an attempt at, but they can’t seem to succeed. (Although, again, she’s not perfect. She still has a lot to learn, such as the fact that she’s not better than other girls because she doesn’t wear heels to school. She’s like “You Belong With Me” era Taylor Swift.) I think I sympathized more with Hayley’s situation than her as a person. I was always on the edge of my seat, just as she was, waiting for her father to do something terrible. (Spoiler ahead.) Honestly, I was kind of disappointed that the ending was a happy one. It bothers me when everyone comes out of a book seeming like they’re going to be well adjusted in the end. I guess Gracie’s life was still going downhill, but I don’t think she was present much at the end of the book. I’m not saying I wanted to find Hayley’s dad dead in the basement, but…I wanted to find Hayley’s dad dead in the basement. I don’t know why I don’t like happy endings, but I can’t help it.
As for the writing, I found at least three typos in this book, but hopefully they’ve been fixed since this copy was published. (Fun fact: This book was listed as The Impossible KNIVE of Memory on LHA’s website until I pointed out the error to her on Twitter and she corrected it.) I also thought the pieces written from Hayley’s father’s perspective from the war were weird. They would have felt way more powerful to me if they had been written in third person. I think this is because the mental energy that it takes for me to switch points of view really takes away from whatever the new character has to say. I’m too focused on trying to get a sense of that person’s voice, and I miss the meaning of what they’re saying. Overall this was a quick read, and I liked it. Not enough to read it multiple times or purchase a copy like I did with Speak, but I would recommend borrowing it from your local library, especially if you’ve read other LHA books and are a fan of her style (which I very much am).