The Impossible Knife of Memory is a 2014 Young Adult novel by American author Laurie Halse Anderson. It explores the life of the protagonist, Hayley Kincaid, and her father, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after returning from military service in Iraq. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common among veterans who serve in active duty and is characterized by irritability, self-destructive behaviors (e.g. alcoholism and self-harm), flashbacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, etc.
On her inspiration for the novel, Anderson wrote: "The book reflects a bit of what I went through with my father. He was a WWII vet with PTSD whose alcoholism was a disruptive force in our family for a long time. I loved him dearly and more than anything, wanted him to get help." On her selection of the title, she wrote: "Memory is often viewed through rose-colored glasses as a nostalgic reminder of simpler, happier times. But traumatic memories can cause tremendous damage and illness.... that's the kind of memory that I wanted to explore both in the novel and in the title."
The Impossible Knife of Memory is not Anderson's only book to deal with heavy themes of trauma, mental illness, and self-destructive behavior: her 2009 novel Wintergirls tells the story of two girls struggling with eating disorders (one of whose condition worsens and who begins to self-harm after the other dies), while her best-known novel, Speak, deals with a teenage girl's PTSD resulting from a sexual assault. Speak, like The Impossible Knife of Memory, also draws inspiration from Anderson's real-life experiences and trauma.
The Impossible Knife of Memory was a New York Times bestseller and was selected for the National Book Award longlist, a Publishers Weekly Best Young Adult Book of 2014 and theSchool Library Journal Best Young Adult Book of 2014.