8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Title: My Name is Not Easy

Author: Debby Dahl Edwardson

Genre: Historical, Young Adult, PoC

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books
Publication date: October 28 2011
Hardcover: 248 pages

My name is not easy. My name is hard like ocean ice grinding the shore . . . Luke knows his Iñupiaq name is full of sounds white people can’t say. So he leaves it behind when he and his brothers are sent to boarding school hundreds of miles away from their Arctic village. At Sacred Heart School, students—Eskimo, Indian, White—line up on different sides of the cafeteria like there’s some kind of war going on. Here, speaking Iñupiaq—or any native language—is forbidden. And Father Mullen, whose fury is like a force of nature, is ready to slap down those who disobey. Luke struggles to survive at Sacred Heart. But he’s not the only one. There’s smart-aleck Amiq, a daring leader— if he doesn’t self-destruct; Chickie, blond and freckled, a different kind of outsider; and small, quiet Junior, noticing everything and writing it all down. They each have their own story to tell. But once their separate stories come together, things at Sacred Heart School—and the wider world—will never be the same.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: It was on my radar when it became a National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (2011)


When I go off to Sacred Heart School, they’re gonna call me Luke because my Iñupiaq name is too hard. Nobody has to tell me this. I already know. I already know because when teachers try say our real names, the sounds always get caught in their throats, sometimes, like crackers. That’s how it was in kindergarten and in first, second, and third grade and that’s how it’s going to be at boarding school, too. Teachers only know how to say easy names, like my brother Bunna’s.

My name is not easy.

These are the opening lines of this carefully crafted novel that follows the story of a group of Iñupiaq, Native American and white children who are sent to a Catholic boarding school in Alaska in the 60s. Although some of the characters and events are inspired by the author’s husband’s childhood experiences, My Name is Not Easy is mostly a fictional account of a complex period in Alaska’s history. In the early 60s, Alaskan parents had to send their kids away to boarding schools where the children were introduced to and forced to practice new ways of life – eating completely different food than they are used to, learning a new belief system, forbidden to use their own language not to mention being torn apart from their family and everything they had ever known.

Luke, Chickie, Sonny, Amiq and Donna are students at Sacred Heart School and they all share the narrative to one extent or another. Stemming from different backgrounds – Luke and Amik are Iñupiaq; Sonny is Native American (not really clear from which tribe) ; and Donna and Chickie are white – each student has to navigate their formative years at school dealing with their own personal problems as well as adapting to the social life at Sacred Heart. Their story is a mix of heartbreak and hope. Luke is the main narrator, if you will, and his perspective frames the book – his are the opening and closing chapters and whose name is the one that is not easy to pronounce. He goes to school with his two younger brothers Bunna and Isaac, determined to look after them (as per their mother’s instructions) and his despair when Isaac is taken away because he was too young for the school is heartbreaking. Sonny and Amiq are opposing forces, each a leader of their own group, separated by their ethnicity, enemies until common foe unite them. Chickie and Donna, stubborn and quiet respectively, both equally observant.

From a storytelling perspective, the story is told in short chapters from the different characters’ point of view and this definitely gives the story a disjointed feel due to its very episodic rhythm. This is amplified by how each break in the story usually correlates to historical facts taking place between 1960 and 1964 (the Barrow Duck-in, the military using the kids as test subjects, the Good Friday Earthquake, so on and so forth) and in all honesty, it is a bit difficult to suspend disbelief on how this group experienced every single problem or event during that period. It is testament to the author’s competence and to the power of the story that this doesn’t matter in the end. Because what matter the most in My Name is not Easy are the characters, their beautifully rendered and ever evolving relationship with each other and with the world at large. These are kids that have been taken away from their family so it is not a surprise that they become a new sort of family facing whatever comes their way as a unified front. This main theme – of family, of union – actually sets up the grounds from which an important yet very uncomfortable discussion can stem from and how these hardships, this experience, as horrible as it was, was perhaps instrumental in forming the future leadership of the Alaskan peoples and in uniting them.

I feel that My name is not Easy is an important book and one that deserves its National Book Award nomination. But it is also a good, engaging book: one with a strong sense of setting and atmosphere (it is easy to feel the isolation that its characters feel); one that treats its characters with compassion and warmth (I appreciated how the author did not fall into the trap of completely stereotyping the nuns and priests who ran the school) and one that takes history and makes it relevant to regular people. Highly recommended.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

I told Mom I’d find Isaac, but I don’t know how.

“It’s ok, Luke, it’s okay,” Sister Mary Kate said. “You have the faith of Abraham, remember that.”

But it’s not okay and I don’t want Abraham’s faith. I want my brother. Abraham’s the one who tied up his own son and got ready to give him to God as a burnt sacrifice, but then God gave him an old sheep to burn instead. Abraham’s son was named Isaac, tool, just like our brother. Only God never stopped them from taking our Isaac away the way he stopped Abraham from burning his Isaac. Which is why I got no use for God. I figure if he’s gonna do stuff like that for one Isaac and not for another, then he isn’t fair. And if he’s going to do it to a little kid like our Isaac, then God is just plain mean, like Father Mullen, because Isaac been waiting his whole life to get big enough to learn how to hunt, and now he’s gone, so he’ll never learn anything. Not even how to skin a dumb old moose.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: Fly Into Fire by Susan Jane Bigelow

Buy the Book:

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  • Heidi
    January 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I honestly hadn’t heard of this book before, but it was on my radar as soon as I read the synopsis, and became a must read by the end of the review. I studied anthropology for my BA, and was fortunate enough to have a professor who had spent years researching Alaskan natives–I’ve been very interested in their issues ever since! Thanks for the review. =)

  • de Pizan
    January 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    This has been on my list for a while. I’m glad to hear it’s worth the wait.

  • capillya
    January 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes!

  • Emily
    January 29, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    This book in my opinion is VERY hard to understand and this book is for my book report/test and I’m in 7th grade I sort of like the book it’s just very hard to keep up with when the narrators are constantly changing

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