Sunday, December 4, 2011
Luke Aaluk's School Days
My Name Is Not Easy
by Debby Dahl Edwardson
National Book Award finalist 2011
In the 1960's, an Inupiaq (Eskimo) boy called Luke, whose real name is too difficult to for non-Inupiaq to pronounce, is sent to a Catholic boarding school, along with his two younger brothers, to complete his education. The majority of the students are other Inupiaq kids and kids from the Athabascan tribe, and the two groups do not get along. Speaking their tribal languages is forbidden, and the boys find it difficult to live under the guidelines imposed by the strict Catholic faculty.
While the subject matter is interesting, primarily because there is little fiction pertaining to Native Alaskan matters, and I certainly learned a decent amount about various real-life incidents like the Duck-In and iondine-131 testing among students, I found the writing to be distracting and a bit sloppy. At the beginning of each chapter, Ms. Edwardson would note the character upon whom the chapter would focus, but the POV for specific characters would shift throughout the book. For example, the majority of Luke-focused chapters would be written in first-person through his perspective; however, near the end of the book a clearly marked Luke chapter is written in third-person for no apparent reason. This happens with a few other characters, as well.
Also, since there's no over-arching plot, the book reads more like a series of school vignettes. Unfortunately, this has a negative effect upon readers' emotional connection to the characters, so when dramatic events take place, such events did not have the impact they might have had with a better writer.
My Name Is Not Easy is the second National Book Award finalist that I have had qualms about. It, and the previously reviewed Inside Out and Back Again both seem, to me at least, to have been nominated because of their diverse subject matter alone, and not because of the strength of their writing or expected longevity.