Review Blog

Apr 09 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Text, 2014. ISBN 9781922182227.
(Age: 14+) War is something which many teenagers have little experience of. High school students in Australia are required to study historical events relating to that violent three-letter word. It is a distant concept for many young people in this society, but even more foreign to young people is the lasting impact of war on returned soldiers. The Impossible Knife of Memory is concerned with the after-effects, providing insight into the psychological battles returned soldiers and their families face.
Our narrator, Hayley, is familiar - a sarcastic, defensive outsider. For eight years she has been 'un-schooled' by her single father, an Iraq war veteran. The book maps her re-adjustment to conventional school after this period of nomadic travel, and her struggle to reconcile her difficult, turbulent past.
This is a strong, hard-hitting novel in many ways. The characters are human, dynamic and relatable, the prose itself at times poetic but always with a realistic edge. The extensive dialogue is one of the highlights, as I find much writing fails to effectively incorporate conversation into the narrative. The tension builds gradually and relationships develop in a highly entertaining way throughout the book. Of course, as hinted earlier, the psychological impact of war lingers as an obstacle for Hayley, with her own adolescent issues mirroring her father's post-service trauma. The only obvious let-down is the unnecessary use of 'text-talk' early in the story as Hayley establishes relationships with peers at her new school - this style is inconsistent with the overall serious tone.
The Impossible Knife of Memory works as both a solid piece of writing for young adults and a meditation on the emotional side of war not often exposed to young people in study of the topic.
Henry Vaughan (Student)

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