Laurie Halse Anderson: The Impossible Knife of Memory

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? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

I want to title this review:  The Impossible Mediocrity of Mental Illness YA. For as complex and nuanced as mental illness is–you’d think that we would get more than just textbook representation in our stories. Unfortunately, time and time again, it’s all I see. So rarely do I find a novel about mental illness that truly shows what it is like to be in the thick of it–instead the depiction is flat and gray.

PTSD is such an important subject, and finding good help for our soldiers is a crucial, difficult task. That is one thing about this book that I did agree with:  how Halse Anderson wrote Andy’s character refusing help or medication. His characterization wasn’t incorrect, I think I just had a hard time with Hayley’s narration of it.

Something else stuck out to me–Finn and Hayley were going through such a similar situation:  they both had family members who were addicts. But instead of talking about it or having that bring them closer together, all they did was fight and scream at each other. Their whole relationship was a weird dynamic, but that really seemed off kilter. Also, it wasn’t lost on me that Gracie continuously suspected Topher for cheating on her as a projection from her dad…though I think everyone else in the story missed that detail. Those sort of plot holes bug me.

But mostly, it’s Hayley that bothers me. Her attitude is horrible, and she’s an unreliable narrator of the worst kind. And maybe that’s the problem. I don’t mind unreliable narrators if there are ways to fill in the holes, but I felt like that knife just cut through the plot until I had an impossible amount of memory to fill.

Trigger warning:  PTSD, Panic Attacks, Knives, Blood, Suicide Ideation/Thoughts/Planning, Drowning, drugs, alcoholism


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WWW Wednesday 10/7/2015



What are you currently reading?


Brain Rules by John Medina

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

For Study:  The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

Legends/Poems:  The World of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin


What did you just finish reading? 



All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (Will be posted next week)


What do you think you’ll read next?


Silas Marner by George Eliot

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann


I cannot breathe.


There was a completely different post scheduled for today, but this weekend, I realized that it was #readformentalhealthweek and there was no way I was going to post run of the mill stuff this week. NO WAY. So I pulled up Goodreads Listopia and went to town. And of course…I went through 50 books before I found one that my library had available online:  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.


Because I…can’t…breathe….

Anderson has, of course, made her way into my perephrial vision; and I have a few of her books on my TBR list. But until now I thought she was just another fluffy YA romance author, along the lines of Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins, so I wasn’t in a hurry to get to her.


While researching books for this week, I saw one review call her “The Jodi Picoult of YA,” which really isn’t too far off. She covers big, emotional issues in hardhitting ways. In Wintergirls, Lia not only battles the recent death of her best friend, but also a life-threatening eating disorder. Her family struggles to help her, but in Lia’s mind they are just tearing her apart.

Lia’s stream-of-consciousness narration literally takes your breath away as she spirals downdowndown. Every calorie she counts, every mental correction she makes–it all becomes so obsessive compulsive that you just need to reach out the book and grab onto her, but you can’t.

Anderson has brilliantly incorporated “Tumblr-speak” into Wintergirls, which normally drives me crazy. However, because she uses it as Lia’s steady climax towards destruction, it greatly increases the anxiety for the reader. The more deterioration in Lia’s stream-of-consciousness, the nearer her imminent breakdown. It’s a pretty fantastic writing device, when used correctly, and she does it SO WELL.

I need to add, for obvious reasons, this book is extremely triggering. I’m not kidding when I said I cannot breathe. There were times during this book when I had to stop and walk away for a few minutes. If these things trigger you, proceed with caution:  anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders of any kind, depression, anxiety, cutting, suicide, obsessive compulsive disorder. Let me know if I need to add to this list. I don’t always add a trigger list to my blog posts, but when it is a book like this…I feel it deserves one.

Again, proceed with the caution you need to take, but there is some power to be gained from reading Wintergirls. Anderson’s message is much the same as the one I give over and over again here at I Lay Reading:

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.”

And for that message, and the brilliant writing, Wintergirls gets 5 Book Dragons.