The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

In her senior year of high school, Hayley Kincain must stop traveling the country in her dad’s eighteen-wheeler and go to a traditional school in his hometown. The new life is one that Hayley hopes will help her dad deal with his post-traumatic-stress-disorder and help his nightmares from the Iraq war end forever. However, as Hayley’s struggles with her new environment (and her surprise romance) increase, her dad falls even deeper into his own problems. Hayley must try to help her dad while attempting to outrun her own painful past. If she fails, both their lives will fall apart.

I love Laurie Halse Anderson, so I was really expecting Impossible Knife of Memory to be amazing. There’s also a lot of Printz buzz going around about it, so naturally I wanted to get my hands on it. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great book. It tackles a tough issue that many people don’t really want to look at — post traumatic stress disorder — in a way that makes things heartbreakingly real. And, if the book were just about Hayley and her dad (and maybe Finn), I think I might have liked it more. But, as the novel progresses, Hayley issues creep up from her past (of course), Issues I thought (because of all the tension surrounding them) would be extremely rough and important. Turns out, they’re really not that bad (not in comparison to Hayley’s current life, anyway). I just didn’t appreciate the way Anderson built up all this suspense surrounding what happened to Hayley, and then delivered a very anti-climatic reveal.

My other issue was — of course! — the romantic relationship between Hayley and Finn. Finn’s a great guy, and Hayley is super smart when it comes to their physical relationship. Eventually, though, Hayley winds up depending way too much on Finn — too much for my taste, at least. Of course, she’s a girl with daddy issues, so maybe it was more real for her to become dependent, but I still would have liked to see her build up more self confidence. 

Negative comments aside, this is still a great book. Hayley, while sometimes annoying, is a believable character with important problems. The romance is flawed, but cute. Pick it up and see what you think. Maybe not a Printz winner, but still a good read.

Rating: 3.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Born with a rare facial deformity, Auggie Pullman is entering a real school for the first time. Severed from the protection of hiding his face in his house or underneath an astronaut’s helmet, Auggie must attempt to navigate a hostile middle school world. Palacio tells Auggie’s story through varying first person viewpoints, driving home the message that kindness is truly life’s best practice.

While Wonder is a book clearly aimed at a younger audience (middle school), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers of any age. Every character is relatable and interesting, and some of the narrators are teenagers, so it’s not just a book about “little kids”. If you’ve ever been bullied (or perhaps have bullied), Palacio’s novel speaks to just how damaging that behavior can be, and illustrates that it’s possible to overcome adversity. A funny novel that will sometimes have you reaching for a Kleenex, Wonder is worth your time. 

However, as important as I think Palacio’s novel is, it does sometimes get preachy. Some situations are presented as “too” perfect, and some of the things the characters said I just didn’t agree with (see the full analysis for more). Then again, this is a fiction book, so the “real” world may not matter. If you’re looking for a “feel-good” book that makes the world look awesome, this is it. If you prefer more “realistic” realistic fiction, maybe not so much. But read it anyway and see what you think 🙂

Rating: 3.5/5

*Bluebonnet Nominee, 2013

This one has a great book trailer! Click here to see it!

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

 

Tarnish by Katherine Longshore

Returning from exile in France after a public embarrassment, Anne Boleyn is determined to make a place for herself in King Henry VIII’s court. The trouble is, everyone – including her own family – seems to have turned against her. Alone and friendless, Anne is pursued by the seductive court poet, Thomas Wyatt, who offers to help her become the most sought-after lady at court. But Anne gets more attention than she bargained for, and soon she finds herself caught between the choice of love and power.

Ok, so I admit, I’m completely biased when it comes to Tudor historical fiction. I find the court of Henry VIII completely fascinating. I mean, the man found a way to get rid of 5 wives (the 6th just happened to outlive him), and no one was able to stop him. In the 16th century, that was a big deal. Not only is Tarnish a Tudor novel, it’s an Anne Boleyn novel, my favorite of his wives. Anne is the first woman Henry VIII threw a wife over for, and, because of her relationship with the king, politics and religion changed in England forever. Henry created an entirely new religious denomination (Church of England) just so he could marry this girl. Then he chopped off her head. Crazy!

As juicy as Anne’s rise and downfall is, Longshore’s novel focuses only on her life before and just at the start of her relationship with Henry VIII. Readers see an awkward teenager trying to make it in a world turned against her. She’s bullied, ignored, and regarded as a huge failure by her family. A very interesting portrayal of Anne, who is often demonized by history as being a witch and a shameless adulteress.

As much as I liked this novel — it’s really not a boring history story at all! — I felt the “real” Anne was probably more in charge of her fate than this novel allowed. I think she came back from the French court elegant, witty, and ready to make a name for herself. I don’t think she went after Henry from the start, but I do think she encouraged him once she realized that she could be queen. Can you blame her? In any case, the price of her ambition was death. Pick this one up and give it a read! Even if you “don’t like” historical fiction — Tarnish may surprise you!

Rating: 4/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.