My Name Is Not Easy
Luke has spent his whole life above the Arctic Circle, living with his extended family in their tiny Inupiaq village. But in 1960, when Luke and his brothers must board a plane and fly south to attend Catholic boarding school, they are exiled from everything they know. At Sacred Heart School, they are beaten for speaking in their native tongues, must follow religious practices that go against their traditional beliefs, and are rarely allowed contact with their families. Many native peoples are represented at Sacred Heart, and student factions soon emerge pitting “Eskimos” against “Indians.” But the students at Sacred Heart gradually realize that they must band together to protest the injustices committed against their peoples.
The injustices committed against Native Alaskans during this period – from nuclear testing on tribal lands, to scientific experiments performed on students without parental consent – certainly deserve more extensive treatment in young adult literature. However, these important issues become somewhat diluted in this novel: the students grow accustomed to their harsh new surroundings with unlikely ease, and the narrative jumps months and years, moving away from social commentary to become more and more of a cliché boarding school story. The viewpoint slips distractingly between many different students at the school, and coincidental plot elements, such as a tragic plane crash, serve to deflect attention from the all-too-attributable atrocities committed by Father Mullen and other representatives of Sacred Heart.
Debby Dahl Edwardson lives and writes in Barrow, Alaska, and brings an authentic voice to Native Alaskans, basing this book on real events in her family’s history. However, one can’t help but feel that loyalty to the original events was prioritized over plot integrity. This novel is a valuable introduction to Native Alaskan civil rights history, but didn’t quite deliver on its initial promise.