2011 National Book Award Finalist,
Young People's Literature

Debby Dahl Edwardson

My Name Is Not Easy

Marshall Cavendish

Debby Dahl Edwardson


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.


Debby Dahl Edwardson grew up in Minnesota, where she spent summers at her family cabin on an island in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. She earned a BA from Colorado College, attended Nansenskolen in Norway, and has lived for over thirty years in Barrow, the northernmost community in Alaska. She earned an MFA from Vermont College in 2005. Debby and her husband George have seven children. Her picture book, Whale Snow (Charlesbridge, 2003), was named to the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society and the CBC/NSST lists and was named Best Picture Book by IPPY. Her first novel, Blessing’s Bead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) was selected by the Junior Library Guild and named to the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society, ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth lists.


I hear the plane overhead, flying low enough to shake the windows. I hold Joe’s gun on my shoulder, sliding my cheek sideways along its smooth stock, trying to pretend it’s not heavy, watching the plane buzz down out of the sky at the far end of town, like a big fat fly. It’s one of them military planes, a C-46. I squint down the gun’s barrel with my good eye as the plane lands, following it through the gun’s sight as it drags its swelled-up belly across the tundra, sunlight flashing off its silver skin. The dogs are complaining about it, their voices yapping mad at first, then yowling up together into one voice, that long-tailed howl they always make when the plane lands.

As far as you can see out, there is tundra, tundra turned red and gold with fall, tundra full of cold air and sunshine. I take a deep breath. It feels like that plane has poked a hole in the sky, and all the air is leaking out.

I hand the gun back to Joe, the gun that’s gonna be mine when I’m old enough to take the kick. Next spring maybe.

“Boys?” Mom says. “You hear? Get your stuff. Plane’s come.”

I’m twelve years old, all right, and Bunna, he’s ten. But Isaac, he’s only six, and all I can think of is those Catholics and what they say about kids. Why can’t we wait until Isaac turns seven?

When I climb up into that plane, the wind’s blowing hard, same as always.

“Take care of your brothers,” Mom calls, and I turn around quick. One last time.

The wind sweeps my hair across my eyes and carries Mom’s words backward. It pulls me backward, too.

Stay here, the wind says. Stay.

Mom stands on the edge of the runway right next to Jack, my aapa and aaka and all our aunties and uncles with their babies. Some of our aunties are crying, but not Mom. Mom says we’re Eskimo and Eskimos know how to survive. She says we have to learn things, things we can’t learn here in the village. Mom does not cry, and neither do we.

Take care of your brothers. I hang on tight to those words as I sit down inside the plane. It’s full of kids, this plane, kids going off to boarding school, mostly teens, because there’s no high schools in none of our villages. Every single teen from every single village in the whole world, maybe—all of us being swept off to some place where there won’t be no parents, no grandparents, no babies. Only big orange buses and trees and teachers choking on our names.