Author: Sherman Alexie
I first came to know Sherman Alexie as a writer after seeing his YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, reviewed on booktube a few years back. Intrigued by the title, I finally took out a copy from the library and devoured it within a few days. As with every YA I pick up, I remember thinking it was just okay. I knew this wasn’t a reflection of Alexie’s writing because I’d had similar reactions to other popular YA books. I guess this is a genre that just doesn’t gel with me.
And while I didn’t mesh as firmly with Part-Time Indian, the way other readers had, I was intrigued by the content – that of a boy growing up on the Spokane reservation and attending a very white high school in the next town – and the writing, and sought out something else by the author. I then picked up his short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and was immediately hooked. The power behind the storytelling of his adult work is a rare find these days and, as a result, this writer has easily become one of my modern favourites.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is the latest of Alexie’s works, published only last year in 2017. And while there has always been an autobiographical element to his books, this is the first official ‘memoir’ to have been published.
In YDHTSYLM, Alexie examines his complicated relationship with his mother as he chronicles the days leading up to her death, her funeral, and the aftermath. Fragments of prose and poetry come together to form pictures of a poor and abusive childhood, an explosive adolescence, and an estranged adulthood. At the heart of this is the beautiful, intelligent, mercurial matriarch, and her fiery clashes with her son.
Alexie’s raw and turbulent emotions are what make this book such a gripping and heartbreaking read. We are there with him through all the stages of grief, sharing his ups and downs, his good days and bad. This is one of those books that is so beautifully well-written, it’s hard to put down. Alexie’s honesty and vulnerability are both refreshing and heart-rending, though he admits during the first few pages to being an unreliable narrator.
This has been a hard book for me to review as it is difficult to put into words what makes it so special. The stunning combination of Alexie’s humour, pain, and love makes for a truly compelling read.
This was my favourite read of 2017 and I encourage everyone to pick it up. Long-time readers of Alexie’s other works will see how his life, so openly displayed in this memoir, has influenced his fiction. This book is also a great starting off point for people who’re new to the author and want to get a feel for his writing. YDHTSYLM is Alexie’s writing at its best and is guaranteed to be one that stays with you for a long time after.