Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Grades 9 and up
Teen/Young Adult Military Historical Fiction
Publisher: Vikings Books for Young Readers, January 7, 2014
384 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Amazon
My Rating: 3/5

Book Summary from

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

My Thoughts:

Well, this was a H-E-A-V-Y read...but don't we know by now when we pick up a Laurie Halse Anderson book what we are getting?  

I found this book on my middle school library shelves and as a mom and teacher I feel it is definitely higher than middle school as much of the content, language and circumstances are just not appropriate for a younger audience.  I am going to recommend that this book be shipped to the high school where it has a more mature audience.

I always judge a book by how fast I read it - if I am really into it, it goes fast.  If not, then I usually rate it lower because it just didn't make me want to read it.  This novel falls into that category of "novels that took me a long time to get through."  I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either so it gets a 3/5.

I appreciate how Anderson deals with the real issue of war veterans and how PTSD affects them AND their families when they return home.  This issue was handled in a very real and raw way, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable (which is what I think Anderson wanted the reader to experience.)  Because of the drug abuse, emotional abuse and very adult content this book is definitely more appropriate for an older audience who can handle these mature issues.

My major fault with novels like this one is that the author spends SO MUCH TIME building the horribleness of the story and circumstance and then everything comes together in a way that doesn't seem realistic given the story told thus far.  I feel like it was tense until the last two pages and then "poof," the main characters get it together and live as happily ever after as they can.  

Overall I am glad to have read this, it was a good opportunity to step into the shoes of a child experiencing their parent's PTSD first-hand.  I look forward to other books that address this issue as well.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys - Book Review

Grades 8 and up
Teen/Young Adult Military Historical Fiction
Publisher: Philomel Books, February 2, 2016
400 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Amazon
My Rating: 5/5

Book Summary from
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
My Thoughts:

First I have to honestly acknowledge that as a U.S. History teacher the Wilhelm Gustloff is something that I knew very little about.  This event is typically overshadowed by some more well-known maritime disasters like the Titanic and the Lusitania.  This novel really brings this lesser-known story to a generation that needs to know about it.

Additionally, the author gives readers a rich historical education on the time period and perspectives (German, Polish, Lithuanian, etc) without the reader even realizing it because it is so beautifully and emotionally presented through the characters.  This book is unique in that it really puts the refugee perspective of this time period in European history front and center.  Having the novel told from different perspectives as a reader I really got a sense of the varying sides approaching this event.  

The author did a phenomenal job balancing the characters evenly and although it took me about half of the novel to really get a good handle on who was who, once I did they became my long lost friends from a different era.  I became heavily invested in their stories, especially sixteen-year-old Emelia who delivers a baby girl while on board.

I appreciated that the author spent most of her time in the novel bringing the characters to the event and although the sinking of the ship is what is most well known of this story it was not the center of the novel.  Her attention to historical detail is impecable and reliable, something that as a history teacher is important to me as I use books in my classroom or recommend them to young people.

I left this book just sad but that does not influence my overall appreciation for this novel and its author.  When I experience those heavy emotions as a reader that is the tell-tale sign that the author has done his/her job.  Kudos to Ms. Sepetys on this novel, it is definitely a keeper on my home bookshelf.