I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The title of this book pertains to Andy's inability to forget what he saw in the war and his daughter Haley's refusal to remember what happened before age twelve, when her mother died and first her grandmother helped take care of her as her father was off fighting in either Iraq or Afganistan, and then his girlfriend Trish, the alcoholic who ended up leaving them.  Andy, a Ranger, was injured in the leg and head and discharged from the Army due to disability, so he then took his daughter on the road with him while he was a truck driver and taught her himself. She quickly fell into having to take care of him when he drank, or lost jobs, due to his PTSD. Underpasses and overpasses and dumpsters could become dangerous to him because of the possibility of snipers or IEDs. The worst day was always the day before Veteran's Day. It seemed to bring it all back to him.  When Haley was seventeen, Andy decided that she should spend her senior year at a school as it would be good for her chances at colleges. So they moved into her grandmother's house that she had stayed in all those years ago.  Gracie, a girl that remembered her from long ago, brought a casserole over and the two became instant friends.

Haley has a theory about people; that they fall into two classes: zombies and freaks.  Everyone is born a freak, it's when they become teenagers that things get complicated and the zombification process happens.  She, with her wild blue hair and her constantly correcting her history teacher and refusal to do homework (especially calculus which she thinks is useless), believes herself to be the ultimate freak.  But is she?

Then one day at first period lunch she meets  Finnigan, "Finn", Ramos, who moved to the area last year and helped the school win the state championship in swimming, but dropped off the team this year.  When she refuses to tell him her name, he simply calls her Miss Blue.  He is trying to keep the school newspaper from ending up on the chopping block (Lots of things already have, like gym teachers. Instead, they have gym assistants that they barely pay anything. They also got rid of all but one of the librarians.).  He wants her to write an article for the paper, which she is against, however, the teacher in charge of the paper is the calculus teacher and he would look favorably upon her is she did this and also if she got a tutor, so Finn decides to tutor her as well.

Finn is a delightful character. He is always saying things like "I gave the best years of my life to the CIA." Or in a text: have you been kidnapped by aliens? are they torturing you? helicopter gassed up and ready I can rescue you.  And then there are the bad math puns like "I think we should take each other to the limit to see if we converge." It's impossible NOT to fall for Finn.  Haley's problem though is she has zero experience with the opposite sex and does not know the social mores and cues and therefore is floundering clueless. On top of this is the problems with her dad.

On the homefront, things are erratic and getting worse than they ever were. He can't seem to keep a job like he said he would and he's drinking and smoking pot more on than off and one night it seems he took something even stronger. There are days on end when he can't get out of bed.  When Haley is called to the Guidance Councillor's office at the beginning of school, Ms. Bendetti, who knew her dad as he had hung out with her younger brother, wants to talk to her father, which is not very likely to happen. On top of that, she drops the bombshell: Trish has been talking to her and has left Haley a letter.  Haley goes into condition red and destroys the letter without reading it.  The last thing they need is Trish coming back making things worse.  Ms. Bendetti also wants her father to participate in the Veteran's Day celebration at school and Haley doesn't know how to tell her that that is the last thing in the world her father wants to do. That those celebrations only make the people giving them feel better, but that they are torture for her father.

As Haley believes her life to be getting better with Finn giving her rides to school in his Plymouth Acclaim that I don't believe ever really saw a good day.  It's burning oil and barely being held together.  Finn drives like an old person, barely going the speed limit, turning the turn signal on long before he needs to, and stopping at yellow lights.  All of which drive Haley nuts.  Haley doesn't have a driver's licence but that doesn't mean she hasn't driven for her dad before.

Haley isn't the only one with secrets. Finn has his own dark family secret of his own.  Hardly anyone in this book has a normal family life, except Topher, Gracie's boyfriend, which in itself is normal, because we are all different and have different families.  As the book goes on, though, the families in it come closer and closer to imploding.  And Haley and her dad are both walking along that thin knife of memory, which is tricky and not always what we perceive it to be, where she is coming to remember more and he is unable to stand to remember what he does and that knife is quite sharp.


 The difference between forgetting something and not remembering it is big enough to drive an eighteen-wheeler through.

-Laurie Halse Anderson ( p 8)

People who have to announce that they are trustworthy deserve to be lied to.
-Laurie Halse Anderson ( p 23)

How many of them believed what they were saying when they blathered on about what college they’d go to and what they’d major in and how much they’d earn and what car they’d buy? They repeated that stuff over and over like an incantation that, if pronounced exactly right, would open the door to the life of their dreams. If they looked at their parents, at their crankiness and their therapy and their prescriptions and their ragged collections of kids, step-kids, half-kids, quarter-kids, and the habits that had started in secret but now owned them, body and soul, then they might curse that spell.
-Laurie Halse Anderson ( p 193)
 Odysseus had twenty years to shed his battle skin. My grandfather left the battlefield in France and rode home in a ship that crawled across the ocean slowly so he could catch his breath. I get on a plane in hell and get off, hours later, at home. I try to ignore Death, but she’s got her arm around my waist, waiting to poison everything I touch.

-Laurie Halse Anderson ( p 301)
 I’m worried. You’re both so weird and incompatible with anyone else that you’re perfect for each other. When he stops touching you and when you stop teasing him, it screws up the universe, know what I mean?

-Laurie Halse Anderson ( p 316)
 Because you can only be brave if you’re scared.

-Laurie Halse Anderson ( p 390)
Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Impossible-Knife-Memory-Laurie-Anderson/dp/0147510724/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468509873&sr=1-1&keywords=the+impossible+knife+of+memory

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