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The Impossible Knife of Memory



Stunning story about girl living with wounded vet father.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Impossible Knife of Memory could spark some smart discussions about veterans and how to best support them -- and their families. 

Positive messages

Hayley learns that she has people in her life -- even, ultimately, her own father -- who can support and save her.

Positive role models

Hayley makes a lot of bad decisions, including skipping school and failing to do her homework. But she's easy to empathize with, given all she's been asked to carry, and she always does her best to protect her father.


A veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, Hayley's father recalls the horrors of war, such as seeing a woman with no face after a bomb explodes and bombing a house full of women and children by mistake. He's also violent at home, punching the wall, stabbing the furniture, and getting into fights in bars. Hayley remembers when he shot a TV set in a hotel room. He also tries to kill himself.


Hayley and Finn kiss and touch a lot. They almost have sex -- he even admits to having been practicing with condoms -- but decide against it. 


A few uses of crude language, such as "bitch," "s--t," and "f--king."


A few mentions of such products as Popsicles, Disney World, and Old Crow whiskey.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Hayley's father gets drunk and even blacks out. While drunk, he gets in fights, destroys the house, and intimidates Hayley's boyfriend by brandishing a splitting maul. His drug-dealer friend delivers marijuana to him. His exgirlfriend also had a drinking problem and is in recovery; Hayley and her friend take other people's medication to alter their moods; and she drinks champagne with her boyfriend. Finn's sister, a drug addict, manipulates their family and steals from them.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Impossible Knife of Memory is about a girl living with her father, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who suffers intense post-traumatic stress disorder. He recalls the horrors of war, including seeing a woman with no face after an explosion and bombing a house full of women and children by mistake. An alcoholic, he's also violent at home, punching the wall, stabbing the furniture, getting in bar fights, and attempting suicide. His daughter, Hayley, remembers him shooting a TV set in a hotel room. There's some swearing, teen drug experimentation, and an encounter in which Hayley and her boyfriend nearly have sex but don't. The book could spark thoughtful discussions about veterans and how to best support them and their families.

What's the story?

Hayley tries to prop up her father, an Army veteran wounded both physically and emotionally. But now that they've returned to live in his late mother's house, his problems only seem to grow worse -- he gets into fights, is fired from a string of jobs, and even intimidates Hayley's boyfriend. Hayley constantly monitors her dad, but the daily burden of figuring out how to act around him and checking to see whether he's been in an auto accident is far too much for her to carry, especially as she's dealing with her own painful past. She works hard to repress childhood memories of a stepmother who abandoned her, even as the same woman wants back into their lives.

Is it any good?


Readers will find themselves quickly immersed in THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY, a thick, rich, compelling book. They'll easily empathize with Hayley, who feels responsible for taking care of her broken father, even though she does worrisome or frustrating things, such as blowing off her schoolwork or pushing away a boy who really cares for her. Teens will learn something about the horrors of war through Hayley's father's graphic flashbacks and their aftermath in the pair's chaotic life since he's been back home. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about movies and books that deal with war. Why do you think it's such a common theme, both the conflicts and their aftereffects?

  • Do you think that we as a country do enough to support our veterans, both medically and emotionally?

  • Author Laurie Halse Anderson's critically acclaimed books feature such intense subject matter as rape, eating disorders, and slavery. Have you read any of them? What do they have in common with The Impossible Knife of Memory?

Book details

Author:Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Penguin Group
Publication date:January 7, 2014
Number of pages:400
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Kid, 11 years old July 14, 2014

A book to think about...

In The Impossible Knife of Memory you will fall in love with the main character and feel for her throughout the whole novel. During the book the main girl has a father who was a war veteran, who escapes the painful memories by drinking and smoking, so if that makes you uncomfortable beware. Also the daughter of the father has to go through his ups and downs throughout the book and can do a lot of things on her own which might send mixed messages to someone who can't handle it. A very big upside of the book was the ending . To me it showed a wonderful message, but I won't give anything about the book away by saying it. I would highly recommend this book.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written bygreenloversara July 17, 2015

Tough to read but great story

This book is about a girl and her father. Her father is a war veteran and he is wounded. She has to look after him and throughout the book he is violent
What other families should know
Too much violence
Adult Written bylizwinn March 12, 2015
After years spent on the road outrunning bad memories, blue-haired teen Hayley Kincaid and her troubled, army veteran father return to their hometown in New York. Having been home-schooled for the last five years, Hayley cautiously re-enters the world of traditional learning, a repulsive realm populated by high school "zombies" (the in-crowd) and a few rebellious "freaks" like herself. Although she impresses few at first with her snarky attitude, she slowly becomes accustomed to her new life, and even gathers a handful of friends (other "freaks" like herself). In the back of her mind, though, is a fear that no teen should have to worry about: the constant, sickening fear for her father's declining mental health. While the prose lacks the gritty, lyrical beauty found in Anderson's previous novel, Wintergirls, this newest offering succeeds in painting a touching, realistic, and perilous portrait of a new era of social issues. Recommended for Ages 15-Up.


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