Laurie Halse Anderson Tackles PTSD In New Gripping Read

The Impossible Knife of MemoryLaurie Halse Anderson is brilliant at taking on social issues.  The Impossible Knife Of Memory explores PTSD in veterans.  Hayley’s father, Andy, served in Iraq.  They have just moved to his home town to the house he grew up in so Hayley can go to high school.  She spent many years being “home-schooled” while her father drove a truck.  Hayley’s father is having a hard time adjusting to his home town.  His only friend might be a drug dealer.  Dealing with a new school situation is hard enough without worrying what her dad will do while she is at school.  She makes a friend quickly who lives down the street and remembers Hayley from a long time ago.  But Gracie has her own family issues to deal with.  Hayley divides people into two categories, freaks and zombies.  She meets Finn.  He is going to tutor her in math but he wants her to write articles for him for the school newspaper.  I love how their relationship builds throughout the story.  The first date is pretty fantastic!  Hayley’s relationship with her father and stepmother is painful and the climax of the story is intense.  As usual, Laurie Halse Anderson brings light to painful issues and tells a compelling story at the same time.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss what it would be like to be Hayley and go to school after spending the years on the road with her dad.

Discuss the moment where Hayley and Finn go to the quarry and she freaks him out.

Discuss freaks and zombies.

Discuss this passage, “Despite my best intentions,  I was beginning to understand how my dad saw the world.  The shadows haunting every living thing.” (pg. 193)

Discuss Gracie’s family life.  How is it better or worse than Hayley’s.

Discuss this passage where Hayley breaks up with Finn, “The bitch wanted to fight, wanted to scream.  She wanted someone else to get in the middle and give her an excuse to kick, to punch, and hurt.” (pg. 324)

Discuss Hayley not knowing The Rules. (pg. 146)

Talk about Hayley’s relationship with her step mom.

Discuss this passage, “Fear.  The fear made me angry and the anger made me afraid and I wasn’t sure who he was anymore.  Or who I was.” (pg. 115)

What do you think the future holds for Hayley and her dad?


Can A Book From 1951 Make You The Most Popular Girl In School? One Eighth Grader Decided To Find Out.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern GeekMaya Van Wagenen knows what it is like to be unpopular.  She is bullied and has very little self esteem.  I can certainly relate to this girl.  That was me at that age.  Maya discovers a book written in 1951 on how to be popular.  Maya is an excellent writer and her mother suggests she follow the book’s advice during her eighth grade year.  Maya follows advice such as how to constantly change her hairstyle to keep them guessing, how Vaseline is better than eye shadow and how to wear a girdle. The harder part comes when Maya must try to be more sociable and try to talk to people.  What she learns during that rather difficult lesson surprised her and me.  I was deeply moved by this book.  Maya is such a brave young lady.  Middle school is a painful ordeal that must be survived for most people.  But that wasn’t enough for Maya.  She wanted to thrive!  This book is an excellent lesson in social skills and how a little kindness can make all the difference.  My favorite moment of discovery for Maya was when she learned,   “I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me.  But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.”   I highly recommend this book for everyone from 4th grade and up.  Taking the advice just might make your life a little better, not just for you but for others as well.  I laughed, cried and mostly remembered what it was like to be 13.  It was freaking hard!

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss this passage on pg. 147, “Maybe real popularity comes from when you take time to listen to someone else.  When you actually care about them.”

Discuss how school can be an armpit.

Discuss, “Now I want to flourish, not just survive.”

Discuss when she rambles on about The Hobbit in front of her crush, Ethan.

Discuss page 152 when Maya says popularity has “more to do with kindness than keeping a wiggly backside in check.”

Discuss her relationship with Leon.

Discuss this passage on pg. 183, “I’d always thought I was alone in my suffering, but tons of other people are shy too.”

Discuss her plan to sit with different people at different lunch tables and try to make new friends.  Would you be willing to do this?  What would your plan be?

Discuss “I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me.  But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.” (pg. 191)