Friday, February 28, 2014
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
If you like: PTSD * falling in love * quarries
In The Impossible Knife of Memory, Hayley is adjusting to life in high school after years on the road with her dad, Andy. They have lived a nomadic life, running from the pain of the past. He is an injured veteran, and a widower. She has learned that there is nothing more important to her than helping her dad to make it through each day. Together they have survived, but they have also begin to reflect each other. Their bond is close, but seeing each other in constant pain is hard for both of them. Hayley’s friend Gracie introduces her to Finn, and she reluctantly begins to fall in love with him. Adding another person into her world is a complicated process, but an irresistible one, too.
Hayley is a teen in remarkably difficult circumstances. At a time that is significantly difficult for any kid — applying to colleges, trying to find yourself, trying to fit in with classmates — she is facing the task of learning how to adjust to a traditional schooling environment, and being away from a father who she has been inseparable from for years. The pressure of taking care of her father has shaped Hayley in dramatic ways. Not only does she feel largely responsible for anticipating everything that might come his way, but she also won’t let anyone get close enough to help them. Being raised by a man who has suffered greatly is not easy, and she inherits some of his symptoms without realizing it. Though looking for threats and assessing the safety of a situation is important, she is unable to enter into normal interactions without constantly being on alert for threats, and being overwhelmed by too many stimuli. Though they don’t always make things easy for each other, the love between Hayley and Andy is what carries them both through each day. It is rarely easy, but that makes them fight all the harder to get through for each other. From the outside, it could look like Hayley is using her father as an excuse to remain apart from her school and the people in it. In reality, the perceived normalcy of their day-to-day lives is painful for her. Taking care of her dad is one way of coping with being different, and is a thread of consistency in a life that is constantly changing.
The Impossible Knife of Memory faces the pains of PTSD unblinkingly. The mental anguish of war is so hard to understand. For those of us who haven’t experienced it, it impossible to understand what a person has been through. The best of intentions can lead to harm. The sharp edge can slice up a person, rather than cut their bonds. The Impossible Knife illustrates that all the love in the world is not enough to pull a person through on its own, but it is the strongest tether for a person to hold onto. The internal battlefield of a person’s past can only be navigated by their own mental map. This doesn’t mean that they can’t call out for someone to walk the path with them. Hayley and Finn have both walked their paths alone for a long time. Though it is hard, it is what they know, and the idea of sharing that with another is terrifying. Slowly, they begin to see that each person has a different pain and may not need to deal in the same way. The most important tool is empathy. Being there and letting the harsh words roll off your back can be the most important thing to a loved one in a difficult situation. For Hayley and her father, the situation is a little different. Both are afraid of bringing the other person down, so they put their pain behind thinly constructed walls that are constantly threatening to topple and crush them. It is only after all the walls are taken down, and they are left with their raw emotions that they can see how much they really need each other — broken or not. It is only when this is accepted that they can make the first confident steps to finding a way to get through every day without it being too much to bear. These mental scars are deep for both of them, and will never truly go away. It is only when we accept the scars that we are able to walk on proudly, as survivors.
If you have ever tiptoed by, hoping for a better tomorrow, read The Impossible Knife of Memory.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. The Impossible Knife of Memory. Viking Juvenile, 2014. Kindle edition.