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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Louise Gornall: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

How do some books just find you at the perfect time? It seems that I’ve read bad book after bad book lately (with one or two exceptions), and then blammo, right when I needed it, this book happened. Two days after I was FINALLY diagnosed with OCD, I pick up Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

I was hooked within the first couple pages. The narrator described her obsessions almost the exact same way I had written about them in my journal the day before my therapist appointment, and I got CHILLS. So much of what she talked about rang true with me. Mine is not near as severe, and I don’t have agoraphobia, but it was incredible to have such representation in a book.

But enough about me and back to the review. There are a lot of similarities between Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything and Under Rose-Tainted Skies. However, Norah doesn’t have to be “fixed” to have a relationship with Luke. Instead, he comes to her. He makes an effort to learn about her disorder. In the process of their relationship, she does heal some, but she isn’t magically better. It’s baby steps, or “new pathways,” as her therapist would call them. Luke helps her grow a bit out of her comfort zone.

This book is going to be triggering for some people. There is a component of self-harm, and a very traumatic scene. Norah also experiences panic attacks throughout the book–those were difficult for me to experience, as they were very vivid. Right on target, but also hard to read through if you are one who has panic attacks yourself. Representation is everything, and amazing…but just proceed with caution if you also suffer from these kinds of mental illness.

I loved this book, I found it so helpful to read about someone like me. We need so many more Own Voices books about people with mental illness in this world. Definitely put this on your list for 2017!

DiversityBingo2017:  MC with an Invisible Disability

NetGalley and Clarion Books provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.


PANIC! instead of sleeping

Last week I shared a journal entry written during a migraine. It was dark, and helped to illustrate a bit of depression’s tunnel of misery. But one thing I’ve never been able to do is write from within an episode anxiety. It’s just too intense and unfocused.

But then I read Sarah Gailey’s “Dissociation is Scary” Article on Boston Globe, and was blown away. I knew I’d have to try it. If you haven’t read Sarah’s post yet, you need go check it out. It’s incredible. Part poem, part essay–she illustrates just how terrifying a PTSD episode is.

Last night, my brain would not settle. I’d had a horrible day, and I was exhausted. But, of course, as soon as I hit the pillow, all that stress fired up.

I didn’t quite have what I consider a full panic attack, but it was definitely an episode. I didn’t sleep much at all last night. At some point, I wrote down the exact chaos that was running through my head.

I can’t I can’t I can’t
No. No. No.
Breathe 123456
I am dying.
That’s different than I want to die.
It’s different.
Can’t Breathe can’t breathe can’t breathe
Get upgetupgetupgetup
You piece of shit.
My chest hurts.
Take a pill. I should take a pill.
No. Bad. It’s bad. Addictive.
Why? Need it.
That’s why you have it. Take it.
No don’t waste it.
You may need it more later.
I can’t sleep. Need it. Can’t sleep can’t sleep.
It’s not WORKING.
Still can’t breathe. Stop thinking.
Eyes hurt.
Chest hurts.
Want to sleep.


Just Walk Away

It is totally acceptable to remove yourself from a stressful or uncomfortable situation before it triggers you. In fact, I recommend it. Few arguments are ever worth a panic attack–it won’t solve anything.

Just get yourself out, go calm down.

I have to do this at home sometimes. One of us will be overtired, the puppy will be naughty, or our team will be losing. Something stupid. Whatever it is, the tension starts simmering and I know if I don’t go to bed RIGHT NOW I won’t be able to get out when everything boils over.

I will just sneak upstairs when The Hubs turns his attention elsewhere, or sometimes I will just tell him that I have to go. 9 times out of 10, he gets it. He usually asks me about it later, but I think for the most part he understands that when I reach that point, it’s better for me to fly than fight.

And that’s OK! I tell you all the time, KNOW YOUR LIMITS!

If it is a real issue, I know we will discuss it later, when things are calmer. Most of the time, though, it’s just us being grouchy butts. Things are tense in our house right now because of the relocation and store shut down. But, I know in a few months, everything will calm down and we’ll be exploring a new city together. That’s marriage!


In case of anxiety…

Anxiety attacks are terrifying. You can’t breathe, your heart is pounding, and the walls are closing in. You feel like you are going to die.

Everyone around you is telling you to “just breathe” and “calm down” and if you could, you’d punch them in their smug faces.

Short story, worst feeling ever. They are literal nightmares.

I found something tumblr the other day that has really helped me, and I wanted to pass it on. It’s been the most successful thing to pull me out and get me breathing normally again, and it gives me something to focus on. Save this to your phone, some place you can easily click to when your hands are shaking.  Give it to your partner or BFF or parent, anyone you are with most often. Make sure it’s available to you. It works.

I don’t have an original source for this, so if you know who created this beautiful thing, let me know.