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THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY

A characteristically honest and deeply felt exploration of the lingering scars of war

A family struggles to hold itself together in the wake of war.

Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, a decorated veteran, have returned to their small upstate New York hometown after years of unschooling and long-haul trucking. Ostensibly, they’re back so Hayley can have a typical senior year of high school, but it’s clear that Andy’s untreated PTSD has made it impossible for him to make a living as a trucker. Both Kincains are bright, sarcastic loners plagued by agonizing memories that won’t quite stay repressed, despite their best efforts, and that punctuate the narrative in counterpoint: Andy’s experiences during his four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan appear fully formed, while Hayley’s childhood recollections are more fragmented and less reliable than they at first seem. As Andy’s mental and physical health deteriorate, Hayley is forced deeper into the role of caretaker. It’s a part she’s been playing so well for so long she doesn’t even realize how much she resents the unfairness of it all until her sweet, bantering boyfriend, Finn, points it out. Anderson sensitively addresses the many problems—physical recovery, grief and survivor’s guilt, chemical dependency, panic attacks and suicidal tendencies—that veterans can face when trying to reintegrate. This is less a bravura performance than a solid one, but Hayley’s strong, wryly vulnerable voice carries the narrative toward a resolutely imperfect, hopeful conclusion.

A characteristically honest and deeply felt exploration of the lingering scars of war . (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-01209-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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