My Name Is Not Easy
Debby Dahl Edwardson
Genres: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Being away from home is difficult under the best of circumstances when you’re twelve years old. But imagine what it would be like to leave not only your tiny village, but to be sent away to learn a culture you’ve never known, complete with an unfamiliar religion and teachers who refuse to acknowledge the good things about your previous life. Imagine being told that your language, your customs, your history isn’t good enough. Imagine constantly hearing that you’re a dirty, sinning, hell-bound heathen every chance the headmaster can get.
The students at Sacred Heart don’t need to imagine this; it’s their everyday reality. Hailing from a variety of “Eskimo” and “Indian” tribes outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, this book follows the lives of a chosen few students as they grow and mature in the first few years of the 1960s. There is the trio of brothers that drifts apart slowly; the all-out brawl between very similar leaders of two different groups; the quiet girl who wants to fit in but hates the thought of losing herself; and the stories of many others who carry the weight of their family’s dreams on their shoulders.
I’ve been sitting here for a few days trying to figure out how to review this book. I know, “Put what you feel on the page and that’s it!” But that’s the problem with My Name Is Not Easy—I don’t know how I feel.
The jumping perspective makes sense from the perspective that it allows the author to explore the inner turmoil of many different characters at once. I can understand that, being a writer myself. However, as a reader I kept getting annoyed that no story ever felt finished. Just as I’d be getting interested in what Luke was doing, Edwards would switch to Amiq or Donna, and I’d have to wait a few pages to either see how Luke’s bit tied in (as it sometimes did) or start to care about what the new narrator was doing (as I sometimes did).
Luke probably came the closest to being my favorite character. Aside from being the opening and closing narrator, he had this strange sort of prescience that was vaguely interesting. I think it could’ve been explored more deeply in the book; as it stands, even he was just kinda…eh. I probably would’ve actually enjoyed the book more if it had been completely from his point of view.
The sense of time was almost non-existent, too. While the book itself covers the years 1960-1964, there are chapters where only two minor events might occur. There’s the feeling that the author wrote them in, cracked her knuckles, and said, “Awesome! That’s enough for 1961! Let’s go to the next year,” before continuing to write. There was never any real feeling of connection to the time; aside from the students riding a bus and arriving on a plane, the story could have taken place in the nineteenth century for all the setting benefited the story.
Because of all the skipping around, both in terms of time and character, I felt like I didn’t get a solid sense of plot. Stuff just sort of happened, characters maybe dealt with it, and that was that. And yes, I know I just gave a very rough definition of “plot” right there. My point is, I had a difficult time caring about any of it because I didn’t feel like I knew any character enough to form a personal attachment to them. This “not getting to know anyone” aspect is particularly ironic because one of the major messages is the book is the humanization of these Native American kids. Edwards wants to illustrate their experiences in racist religious schools; Sacred Heart, she explains in her author’s note, represents all the boarding schools to which young children were sent to be assimilated into American (read: white) culture.
Maybe that’s the point of the entire book: when stripped of your culture, everything becomes gray and nothing matters anymore.
Given My Name Is Not Easy as a whole, though, I might be reading into it too deeply.
Good if you need something like it for your shelves, but you’d be better off looking around some more if you want a full novel, not a series of small, vaguely-interconnected episodes.
- People interested in Alaska
- People interested in Native American experiences and/or history
- Kids who like the “boarding school” aspect of Harry Potter, but need to read historical fiction for school
- Alcohol Use: some characters drink underage; others are noted alcoholics
- Bullying: characters bully each other
- Death: characters in both the main- and subcast die
- Deceit: characters actively deceive each other throughout the book
- Lying: characters lie to and about one another
- Natural Disaster: a natural disaster is part of the plot
- Other Illegal Activity: adults commit crimes that affect the children in the book
- Physical Abuse: adults and authority figures routinely beat the children in their care
- Prejudice: many characters are prejudiced against one another
- Religion: Sacred Heart is a Catholic boarding school, and the beliefs of the teachers/headmasters are contrasted with the traditional beliefs of the Native American students
- Supremacy: most characters genuinely believe that they are better than other characters
- Swearing: characters swear throughout the book
- Violence: characters attack each other physically
- Alcohol Abuse
- Change vs. Tradition
- Growing Up
- Right vs. Wrong
- Romantic Love
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