When high school students want to talk about literature outside of the classroom, that is an exciting moment! This year, along with two other teachers, I am helping to run the school’s Book Club. I find it interesting that the group chose a book with such a strong-voiced protagonist because all I can think of is books like Twilight and the books by Ellen Hopkins. These teenagers must be looking for a voice that they are not able or not confident enough to embody on their own. In The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, the narrator is 18 year-old Hayley Kincain who lives with her father, an recent veteran of the US Army, and the novel tells the story of surviving high school while living with a father who has PTSD.
I did enjoy the novel, but I have enjoyed the conversations with the Book Club even more. Some of the members of the Book Club have such sad stories, that they can relate to the miserable life of Hayley Kincain. In the novel, Hayley has blocked a lot of her early childhood memories because they were so volatile and hurtful. For the girls reading this book in the high school, they can relate to the absent father, to the stress of war, to the pain of having a rough childhood full of fighting, and also the heartbreak of wanting friends yet not being able to let others in to their lives. I am continually reminded in my job as a teacher that teenagers are amazing humans beings.
Yes, I enjoyed the novel and the discussions with the Book Club members, but as I read I kept thinking of the film Hurt Locker. I remember seeing this film; it stayed with me for days. I could not imagine the stress and the trauma that these men and women experienced. I think that is why I enjoyed reading The Impossible Knife of Memory. As much as Hayley tries to suppress her childhood and the bad memories and as much as her father tries to suppress his memories of fighting in war, those memories still surface and do act like a knife, cutting deep into the goodness of life. For me, and I’m sure for many, one of the most haunting scenes in Hurt Locker is when the soldier is back home and is trying to do something as simple as buy cereal. The clip of the scene really is powerful.
For teens, seeing an example of two people who deal with their horrible memories and the fall-out of those memories allows them to see what could happen in their own lives: the experience of reading the book answers some of their ‘what-if’ questions. Our final discussion on the book is after Christmas Break, and I can’t wait to hear what they thought of the entire novel and it’s significance to their own lives.
“I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” (Kofi Annan)