The Impossible Knife of Memory

impossibleHayley and her father have moved back to his childhood home after spending five years on the road.  He’s been trying to escape the demons that have followed him back from his time in Iraq and is hoping that settling down will help, finally offering Hayley a more stable life for her senior year in high school.  As her father struggles with alcohol and drugs, blackouts and anger, depression and unemployment, Hayley struggles with romance and friendship and schoolwork and well… her father.  She becomes the responsible one, trying to make sure her father is OK while trying to manage all of the complexities of being a teenager.

I am a big fan of Laurie Halse Anderson’s work.  Speak was fantastic and Wintergirls still haunts me – they both make me want to lock my 12-year old daughter inside the house for the next ten years or so!  So it was with great anticipation that I grabbed The Impossible Knife of Memory the minute it hit the library shelves.  And while the addressing of PTSD is important and uncommon in YA literature, and while I liked Haley, loved her boyfriend Finn, and felt for her father – for some reason it just fell short for me.  I can’t even explain exactly why, I just never truly connected with the characters or their pain.  I wanted to, I really did.  I kept waiting for it to grab me in the gut and not let go, but it just never did.  And the ending seemed to come and go quickly, with things wrapped up more nicely than I expected.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good book and worth reading.  It addresses an important issue as our veterans continue to come home, and it provides an excellent vehicle for meaningful conversations about the surrounding issues.  Unfortunately, it just won’t stick with me the way her other works have…

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Publication:  Viking Juvenile, January 2014

With or Without You : A Memoir

with or withoutWith or Without You arrived this week, the next book in my Indiespensables subscription (complete with my extra gifts!  Just like Christmas all over again!).  Most of what I’ve been reading lately has been pretty light – this memoir definitely is not.  This has been a hard review for me to sit down and write, although thoughts of the book fill my head, getting them out in some organized fashion has not been simple.

Nikki (the author’s nickname) grows up in a trash-filled rundown house with her wild, unpredictable, and drug-addled mother, Kathi, in Danvers, Massachusetts, north of Boston.  The memoir travels through Nikki’s childhood and early adulthood, jumping around chronologically, and focuses largely on her relationship with her mother and her own struggles with addiction.

While the story is dark and oftentimes disturbing – Kathi provides Nikki with Oxycotin for her headaches at a young age, leaves her with a known pedophile, encourages her to get pregnant in high school, and gives her high-quality pot for Christmas – it is not as depressing as it sounds.  Ruta’s telling of her story layers caustic humor with love and the beginnings of forgiveness.  There are times when Kathi does try to be a good mother, although her methods may be unconventional – selling coke to pay for Nikki’s schooling, working three jobs to buy her outlandish Christmas gifts, doing whatever is necessary to ensure Nikki can go to dance lessons, French lessons, and the symphony.

In spite of the horrors Kathi subjects her daughter to, there are moments of affection and love and spunkiness and don’t-mess-with-us attitude that make you smile, laugh, and actually hope for Kathi’s redemption, and for her own sake, not just for Nikki’s.  As Nikki struggles with recovering from her own addiction she ultimately needs to cut her mother out of her life in a quest for sobriety and sanity.

Ultimately, this memoir is about a complicated mother-daughter relationship, filled with codependency, anger, hate, and love.  Ruta indicates that this book is largely a letter to her mother and the dedication heartbreakingly reads simply “To Her”.  The ending is real, not fiction, so there is no tidy resolution, just an ongoing struggle and the possibility of hope.

Title: With or Without You 
Author: Domenica Ruta
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir
Pages: 224
Publication: Spiegel & Grau, February 2013