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Pick of the Week: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

This book left me speechless. At the same time, it made me feel a whole lot. I’m not sure I can find words to describe it, but I’ll try. I made a list of adjectives: sad, angry, profane, funny, shocking, relatable. Alexie is a genius with language, and I could feel his pain coming so acutely through the book that it seemed to be rolling off the pages in waves. That didn’t ever make me want to put it down, though; instead, it drew me in further.

The memoir illuminates Alexie’s experience growing up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation in the 1970’s. When his mother passed away in 2015, he was so affected by her death that he felt compelled to write this book about their complicated, fraught relationship. Like his mother, Lillian, Alexie has bipolar disorder, and he speculates in the book that this similarity made them clash so much. Lillian was an especially complex person: an alcoholic who got sober to take care of her family; a highly intelligent woman who was one of the last fluent speakers of her tribal language; a victim of rape; and a pathological liar who was often cruel.

All of Alexie’s issues with his mom are inseparable from his Native American upbringing and heritage: poverty, racism, and other aftereffects of colonialism on the “rez:” alcoholism, violence, cruelty. This isn’t just Alexie’s family story, but it’s a window into what life on the reservation is really like. Alexie doesn’t pull any punches in describing any of it, and his raw honesty, combined with his incredible writing skill, makes this book so impactful. I can guarantee you will be moved.

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