Debby Dahl Edwardson,
My Name Is Not Easy
Marshall Cavendish, 2011.
What’s in a name? For many people, it stands for something that directly correlates to that person’s sense of identity. In My Name Is Not Easy, author Debby Dahl Edwardson has taken this idea of identity (whether it’s through a name, an action, or relationships with others) to show how it shapes her characters. There’s Luke Aaluk, whose Inupiaq name has been changed because it’s “too hard” to pronounce, and his two younger brothers, Bunna and Isaac. There’s Chickie, a “white Eskimo” who doesn’t fit into either world. Donna and Junior, both quiet and observant, are on the sidelines, but yearning to finally break out and make a name for themselves. Finally, there’s Amiq and Sonny, the “alpha males” of the respective Indian and Eskimo cliques who are constantly butting heads for control.
The story follows these young children for a span of four years (1960-1964) and begins with the Aaluk family discovering that their boys, Luke, Bunna, and Isaac are being shipped off hundreds of miles away to a boarding school called Sacred Heart School to become “good Christians.” As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the characters’ histories that have made them who they are today (alcoholic parents, abandonment). Edwardson steers clear of any romanticized image of Eskimos and Indians and touches on the hardships that many of them have faced through poverty and ethnocentrism.
The book not only addresses native culture, but also some of the major events that occurred in Alaska during the 1960s, such as Project Chariot. This was a real proposal made by the US Atomic Energy Commission as a way to demonstrate the peaceful use of atomic energy, and the military really did conduct experiments on native villages using iodine-131. Edwardson doesn’t go into much detail regarding these events, but rather, she uses them as a way of conveying even more ominous things to come. All of the characters are unsure of how or why these events are occurring, but they know it can’t be good for them, their families, or their communities.
My Name Is Not Easy is a moving story and while some of the topics can be difficult to read about, Edwardson has ultimately created something invaluable, a tale to keep history alive and educate people now as well as future generations to come.