After four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and an injury that ended his military career, veteran Andy Kincaid “could turn into a werewolf even when the moon wasn’t full,” according to his daughter Hayley, a high school senior. Hayley and Andy have just returned to Andy’s hometown after several years on the road, with Andy driving trucks in an attempt to chase away his demons and Hayley home-schooling herself from the front seat. Now Hayley is attending high school for the first time, theoretically to prepare for college. But she’s not entirely sold on the idea of classrooms and homework, let alone college applications. What’s the point, she wonders, of trying to build a future when she’s constantly rescuing her father from drowning in his past?

Between checking to see if Andy has gone to work that day (or even if he’s gotten out of bed to take a shower) and attempting to manage her own sense of constant panic, Hayley appreciates being aloof. But she can’t help becoming friends with her neighbor Gracie, and then becoming more than friends with attractive but enigmatic Finn. And just as Hayley and Finn are sorting out their feelings for each other, Andy’s former girlfriend Trish—whom Hayley hates for a reason that no one else knows—comes back to town.

Margaret A. Edwards Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter, as with rape in Speak and anorexia in Wintergirls. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, she applies her considerable talent for writing intense, authentic narratives to the timely and moving topic of a teen coping with a parent’s post-traumatic stress disorder. And like Speak, The Impossible Knife of Memory interlaces its serious content with threads of dark humor. (For example, Hayley’s high school is, according to her, populated exclusively by zombies and freaks, interacting with each other according to a well-defined and completely absurd social order.)

Longtime Anderson fans won’t be disappointed, and readers newly discovering her work will understand why she’s earned a reputation as one of the most honest authors writing for teens today.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Laurie Halse Anderson for The Impossible Knife of Memory.

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