The National Book Award finalist My Name Is Not Easy is Debby Dahl Edwardson’s third book for young readers. With each of her books, Edwardson has engaged increasingly older readers, and people have asked her if her next book will be for adults. She responds that writing for children and young adults is her calling. Great children’s books create the readers of tomorrow. And coming from an Inupiaq community in Barrow, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle (where residents now enjoy nearly 24 hours of daylight), she sees her mission as that of bringing the heritage and experiences of the people of her community to a wide audience. “We are a multicultural country, and our books should reflect that,” Edwardson says.
My Name is Not Easy explores the lives of several Inupiaq and Athabascan children sent in the early 1960s—shortly after Alaska’s statehood—to a Catholic boarding school in the interior of the state. At Westbeth, Edwardson read two brief passages from this powerful story, both centering on an experiment that the U.S. Army conducted on unsuspecting Inupiaq children, experiments that involved drinking radioactive iodine in the belief that X-raying the children would reveal how they survived in such a cold climate. Luke, whose story is based on the boarding school experiences of Edwardson’s husband, submits to the dangerous experiment. Another Inupiaq boy, Amiq, tries to escape and is aided by Sonny, his rival at the school who is not exposed to the radiation because he is Athabascan, from another part of the state.