Khanh the Killjoy

Not an emotional book for me

The Impossible Knife of Memory - Laurie Halse Anderson

This is not a bad book by any means, but it left me quite emotionless despite the gravity of the situation that it portrayed. I think a lot of people will enjoy this book; clearly from the high ratings of this book, a lot of people have. It just didn't work for me.

I feel like this book sanitizes PTSD into a very clean depiction. For me, this book is not dark. It did not feel depressing. It was not emotionally wracking. This book portrayed PTSD through a very clean, filtered lens, a textbook description of bipolar disorder and manic depression as a symptom of PTSD rather than anything truly heart-wrenching. To top it off, it was told through the narrative of a stereotypically "annoying" and "tough" teenaged girl with whom I found hard to relate.

This book is about PTSD. I know about PTSD. My father, uncles, and many of his friends fought in the Vietnam war. He still wakes up in the middle of the night from his nightmares.

My father has seen friends killed in combat. He himself has killed enemy soldiers. He's buried his brother in law, he's seen his beloved older sister commit suicide because she couldn't live without her soldier husband. Trust me, I know about PTSD.

This is a very personal subject for me, and that is why I read this book. I wanted this book to make me feel emotionally broken. I wanted so badly to love the main character, to sympathize with her. To an extent I do, her situation is extremely grave, and it left me feeling very worried for her at times, but I just couldn't relate to her.

The book did not make my heart ache for a single beat. I never felt the slightest tingle of tears behind my eyes. It did not left me broken in the least. No, this is not a bad book, but it did not emotionally connect with me.

Hailey is our main character. She is a surly, sullen teenager. She hates everyone, everything. She is the trope of an angry teenager, and while it is understandable, it doesn't really make her a character that I like. For an overwhelming part of the book, I had an intense dislike of Hailey.

I know that teenagers are not perfect. I know that they need time to mature. Trust me, I was your stereotypical teenager myself, but that doesn't mean you would like me when you met me, and it doesn't mean that I like the character that Hailey is, within this book. I understand that not all characters are likeable, but they need to be sympathetic. For someone whose home situation is so grave, I could not find within myself the sympathy I should have had for Hailey due to her overwhelming amount of apathy that is Hailey's personality.

Hailey puts all her peers into two categories. She is terribly closed-minded. She labels people. Everyone is either a freak or a zombie.

There are two kinds of people in this world:
1. zombies
2. freaks.
Only two. Anyone who tells you different is lying. That person is a lying zombie. Do not listen to zombies. Run for your freaking life.
Another lesson: everyone is born a freak.

She hates authority figure. All adults are out to get her.

My math teacher had a vendetta against me and as proof I offer the fact that I had not been told about Wednesday’s test.

Hailey flaunts the rules. She rebels in the dumbest ways.

All of my answers were drawings of armored unicorns. Five minutes before the period ended, the principal’s voice lectured the entire school about how badly we’d screwed up last week’s lockdown drill. I drew a bomb attached to a ticking clock under one of the unicorns.

I found it so hard to get into the book, because so much of the book felt like Hailey's character was an overinflation of an angry teenaged character with whom we were supposed to relate, with whom we were supposed to sympathize, if not like. We are supposed to gradually fall in love with Hailey. I never got past the "hate" stage myself.

Part of the reason why she's so angry is because her situation at home is far less than ideal. Her father is a veteran, and suffers from PTSD. On a good day, he is smiling, laughing, he can talk to his friends, he can pretend to be normal.

On a typical day, her father can barely move.

Another lie. I leaned my forehead against the door. “Did you even try to get out the door? Did you get dressed? Take a shower?”
“I’ll try harder tomorrow, princess. I promise.”

On a bad day...

He grabbed the front of my sweatshirt. I gasped. His jaw was clenched tight. The bonfire danced in his eyes. I had to say something to calm him down, but he looked so far gone I wasn’t sure he’d hear me. He tightened his grip, pulling me up on my tiptoes. His free hand was balled into a fist. He had never hit me before, not once.
I braced myself.

Hailey has an ally at school, a boy called Finn who is unexpectedly overbearing. He follows her around, he forces her to write for the school paper. I was pretty sick of Finn by the first 25% of the book, to be honest. Finn is one of those guys who just do not take no for an answer. Not in a sexual way, but in an pervasive way. Finn never gives up. He is like the albatross around your neck. He slowly grows on Hailey, and I have to admit that Finn grew on me pretty quickly after I got over my initial bad impression of him.

“I really like you, Hayley Kincain. I want to be with you as much as I can. I get that it’s weird at your house, scary maybe, and your dad can be a jerk. You don’t have to tell me about it if you don’t want to, but it kills me because you are so beautiful and smart and awesome and I don’t want anything to be scary for you, I just want—”

The thing is that their romance is so fast, so clean, it feels so forced. It is too perfect. I don't understand why Finn chooses to be with Hailey. I don't know why he zones in on Hailey to be his girlfriend, because make no mistake, he absolutely has his eyes on Hailey since we first meet him. I don't understand it. Hailey is not a likeable character when we first meet her, and the fact that Finn so overwhelmingly likes her from the start is so completely unrealistic. Their romance is very sweet, but not at all believable.

The book does not portray teenagers in a way that I found realistic. I am not so far from high school that I do not remember it, and the high schoolers in this book were more or less high school YA tropes, with the angry boys and the flirty, giggly teen girls. And then there is the terrible, sad attempt at text speak in a text message. Sigh. I send texts. I know teenagers who sends texts. There is not a single teenager I know who sends texts like these:

he wnts 2 no if yr gay
want to go out with me?
chill, im not gay
???? r u shur
you’re not my type G
wats yr typ?
people who can spell
fin sez he kn spl

Several pages of this. It made my head hurt so much.

This book tries to depict PTSD sensitively and realistically, but I think it is too whitewashed to be emotionally believable. This is not a bad book, but as an emotional depiction of PTSD, it fails.