You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir

by Sherman Alexie

Hardcover, 2017

Call number




Little, Brown and Company (2017), Edition: 1, 464 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Multi-Cultural. Nonfiction. HTML:A searing, deeply moving memoir about family, love, loss, and forgiveness from the critically acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award-winning author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Family relationships are never simple. But Sherman Alexie's bond with his mother Lillian was more complex than most. She plunged her family into chaos with a drinking habit, but shed her addiction when it was on the brink of costing her everything. She survived a violent past, but created an elaborate facade to hide the truth. She selflessly cared for strangers, but was often incapable of showering her children with the affection that they so desperately craved. She wanted a better life for her son, but it was only by leaving her behind that he could hope to achieve it. It's these contradictions that made Lillian Alexie a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated, and very human woman.
When she passed away, the incongruities that defined his mother shook Sherman and his remembrance of her. Grappling with the haunting ghosts of the past in the wake of loss, he responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is a stunning memoir filled with raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine, much less survive. An unflinching and unforgettable remembrance, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a powerful, deeply felt account of a complicated relationship.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member streamsong
This is Sherman Alexie's story of his mother and his oftentimes painful relationship with her. It's a book which begins and ends with her death.

Lillian Alexie was a complicated woman. She lied easily; she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder; she was an alcoholic who gave up alcohol when she saw the
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effect it had on her kids. She was also the last true native speaker of the Spokane language, a beloved social worker, and a gifted quilter. She grew up abused and in turn, abused her kids. As Alexie said 'She and I were not always kind to each other.'

While she was alive, Alexie didn't appreciate his mother's good and unique qualities. Now, he is haunted by remembrances of her.

It's also the story of growing up different (Sherman was born with hydrocephaly); and of growing up amidst the physical and emotional poverty of an Indian reservation among people so beaten down by life that they don't have much to give to others.

I listened to the audiobook, and at times, Alexie was obviously fighting back tears as he read. It's an incredibly emotional journey, as Alexie comes to terms with his mother's death, her life and his own childhood. As he relates in one of the final chapters, he has scars that he has never let anyone, even his wife, touch. He bares them now for his readers.

It's brutal honesty doesn't romance the rez; you may have read one of his interviews where he predicts that he will take much grief from the Native Americans who read this book. And yet, it's his story. And probably the story of many more such kids – those growing up in poverty on and off a reservation.

You'll learn much about a reservation life; but you'll learn even more about being human.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I've come late Sherman Alexie's work, having read only a handful of poems and a few short stories, but I certainly know him by reputation as our foremost contemporary Native American writer. Much of his fiction is suspected to be autobiographical, but You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is his only
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declared memoir. It focuses on Alexie's conflicted relationship with his mother Lillian, and it is through the lens of that relationship that nearly all the events described in this book are filtered. Lillian was a generous woman, always ready to help a neighbor in need; she taught the dying Spokane Indian language (but not to her own children), and she created quilts that embody tribal history. But as a mother, she was often neglectful and sometimes downright cruel. She was a drinker, and she ignored the pain that Sherman endured at the hands of bullies; she let the electricity get shut off in the middle of winter, yet she worked through the night finish a quilt, the payment for which would get the electricity turned on again. When Sherman was only 11, she told him that she was a child born of rape, and he later learned that his sister had been told that Mary, their eldest sibling, was also the child of a rape. (The photo on the book's cover is not of his mother and Sherman but of Lillian and this sister, Mary.) Sherman is as haunted by the fact that she revealed bits of her secrets to each child as by the history of rape in his family tree. Yet the maternal ties kept binding, no matter how far away Sherman moved, no matter how long he went without visiting his mother, despite successes and failures, health crises, and happy moments. And of course, Alexie's memoir is in many ways the story of the rez and the Native Americans who grew up there--the bullies, the criminals, the ones who died young of drugs, booze, or violence, the too-young mothers of too many children, the hopeful and those who had lost all hope.

Alexie tells his story in a series of 78 short essays and 78 poems, and the combination is powerful. I listened to the book on audio, read by Alexie himself, and I can't recommend it highly enough. He is, of course, the perfect reader of his own history and his own words. At times, emotion overwhelms his voice, but this only adds to the poignancy. I was left both sad and uplifted, and with a desire to read more of Alexie's work.
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LibraryThing member elenaj
[Positive review deleted due to revelations about actions by the author. The book is good - but I recommend reading a good book by someone who isn't a serial sexual harasser instead.]
LibraryThing member Whisper1
I'll start by saying I am disappointed with this book. Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite young adult authors. Raised on an Indian reservation in Spokane, Washington, this, and his other books have a very strong theme of the treatment of American Indians and their difficulties at the hands of non
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Indians who unfairly treated them as outsiders and those who never belong.

This book is first and foremost a song to his mother. It includes some stunningly beautiful poems, and then there are the emotions that bubble up and ferment, letting the reader know his mother was a drama queen, a liar, and an unstable influence. To her credit, she kicked the booze, but Alexie also writes of her undrunken rages.

And then, while I was feeling sad for him and his childhood, the theme changed and suddenly, what appeared to be out of context, I was reminded of feelings I have when I read Anne Lamott. I am captivated by the writing and clear images, only to feel side swiped by ranting political views.

I'll state that this is my opinion and that I understand others might not feel this way, but, I am taken aback by political diatribes (whether republican or democratic) that seem to fly out of nowhere and appear to be disjointed by the theme, and seem inappropriately added in the context of the book.

This has nothing to do with if I agree or disagree with his political opinions. I simply feel that unless the title leads me to know this is a book about politics, then I feel used by someone who must sneak in his views and hold me hostage.

Regarding his comments about his parents, so many, including myself, have feelings of parents that were selfish, narcissistic and would not win an outstanding mother of the year/life award. His feelings are certainly well detailed and clearly described, leaving the reader with a heavy dose of empathy for the way in which he was treated as a child.

So much of Alexie's writing in this book is the disappointment of his mother. Sadly, while his father couldn't hold a job and was a full-blown alcoholic, he seems to be treated more kindly and given a broader leeway in the parenthood category.

I was most taken aback by comments of Alexie's high school friends. Attending school away from the rez, was not easy, and yet, he found that he was treated kindly and was given many well-deserved awards while there. In truth, conversely, he was treated most unfair by his Indian friends who seemed to bully, punch and beat up. while in schools on the rez.

Yet, Alexie takes it upon himself to say (even though he doesn't know this), that many of those people in high school who liked and helped him, now as an adults, probably voted for Trump! He ends this diatribe with some cold, callousness to the effect that they shouldn't look for him because he would not be found and would be placing distance between himself and them.

Ah, Sherman, I so love your young adult books. But, I cannot rate this one as highly.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
This book was getting a lot of buzz and personal recommendations so I decided to give it a try, especially considering that I had read several of Alexie's other books previously. This memoir is centered around the death of Alexie's mother and his grief in dealing with it, although the story veers
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off from there to other parts of Alexie's life growing up on a Spokane reservation, becoming an author, dealing with health issues, etc.

Early on in the book, Alexie mentions a fake conversation with a writing mentor and talks about memories he and his siblings disagree about, making it clear from the outset that this book is solely his own remembrances and that he might sometimes be an unreliable narrator. I really like that approach, especially given that so many memoirists have been accused of playing fast and loose with the truth, as people seem to think there is a solitary Truth and don't give leeway for everyone's memory not being necessarily the same.

Alexie's book also doesn't follow a strict chronology, which I didn't mind except for the fact that it resulted in several instances where he ended up repeated something already said earlier in the book. (This is the reason I didn't rate this book higher). Instead, the book follows themes or thoughts of Alexie's. Prose is interspersed with poetry, which I thought was an unusual but effective approach for a book that is so emotional. Incidentally, my previous experience with Alexie's works were all his novels, so it was nice to read some of his poems as well.

Learning about Alexie's tumultuous life could sometimes be heartbreaking, with all the turmoil and abuse he went through at the hands of so many people in his life. Although I had known that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was semi-autobiographical, it wasn't until reading this book that I realized just how much was indeed based on Alexie's own experiences.

The audiobook version of You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is read by Alexie himself, which makes for a powerful listening experience. You can hear Alexie's emotions loud and clear throughout, whether his voice is near breaking during sad moments or a chuckle escapes when recounting a humorous incident.

Even though I wasn't as thrilled with the second half that started repeated parts of the first section, I did enjoy this title overall and would recommend it for fans of Alexie's works, memoir enthusiasts, or those who want a thought-provoking (albeit poignantly emotional) read.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
I could write essays about this book for the rest of my life. Whatever your family history, there are at least three ways into this important book.
LibraryThing member deckla
Ostensibly about Alexie's relationship with his mother, this memoir is about SO much more. It's a very personal book. One of the most moving aspects of the book concerns his ruminations on how he has succeeded against all odds, and what his life has cost him. Sherman Alexie doesn't believe in the
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American Dream. Sherman Alexie tells you where it hurts. The book is structured like the quilts his mother used to make, but its patchwork quality engrosses rather than distracts. It's a page-turner. And a testament to his prowess in poetic forms. Beautiful!
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LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
In Sherman Alexie’s memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, he talks openly about many things: his health – he was born hydrocephalic and suffered a brain tumor in adulthood; his struggles with alcoholism and mental illness – he is bipolar; his life growing up on a Reservation – the
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poverty, the abuse both sexual and physical, as well as substance abuse, the bullying, and about how so many of his childhood friends and, yes, bullies died young; his decision to attend school off the reserve where he was the only Native kid and how it affected the rest of his life; his father, a binge drinker whom he loved unconditionally; his sisters, his wife, his writing, and his success as a writer.

But most of all, he tries to come to terms with the complicated relationship between him and his mother, Lillian, after her death. Lillian was a very complicated woman. She was, like her son, bipolar and was, in Alexie’s words, ‘salmon-cold and pathologically lied’. But she was also willing to make sacrifices for her children – an alcoholic, she gave up drinking when she saw the effect it was having on them and she supported Sherman’s decision about schooling against his father’s objections. But when he is beaten up by a bigger white boy on the reserve, she refuses to do anything. He describes in a poem how he felt safe with her 'almost half the time'.

Mom protected me from cruelty

Three days a week

She may have been the result of rape as well as the victim of it herself. But, as Alexie points out repeatedly she is a compulsive liar or perhaps, more kindly, like him, she is a storyteller and she has told a different version of her life to her daughters than to Sherman. He does, however, choose to believe the one she told him. But she supported the family for years with her quilting and was also one of the last true native speakers of the Salish language - she chose not to teach it to her kids and he realizes the depth of what is lost after her death.

Alexie’s relationship with his mother often broke down and they frequently stopped talking for long periods of time. He has little good to say about her and yet, despite this or perhaps because of it, his deep and profound grief at her death is present on every page. It is clear that he realizes that they were more alike than different and he misses even all the bad things about her.

Throughout the book, he switches between poetry and prose even occasionally moving from one to the other in the same paragraph. You Don’t Have to Say You Love me is a beautiful, profound, and profoundly moving story about being Native American, about being a writer but most of all about grief and the complicated love/hate relationship between him and his mother.

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
What a heartbreaking memoir about a flawed mother who nevertheless helped shape Alexie into one of the most honest fiction writers of today.
LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
This memoir runs the gamut of every emotion. Even though it is a mixture of poetry and prose, the entire volume is very poetic.
LibraryThing member mjspear
Sherman Alexie's 400+ page ode to his mercurial mother and a violent, chaotic childhood. Life on the Spokane "rez" wasn't easy; Alexie shares scene after scene of dpreviation and casual violence fueled by addictions and anger. His mother, at turns, berated, ignored, and abused him. Yet she "saves"
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his life twice: moving him and his siblings away from danger and personally overcoming alcohol and valium addictions. As he uncovers her own violence-soaked life, Alexie gains an understanding of his mother and his own issues. This reader admits to skipping some of his protracted poetry (sorry!) but the prose is wonderful enough on its own. A must-read for anyone trying to understand the "modern day Indian" and/or who has enjoyed the classic The Absolutely True Dairy...
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LibraryThing member SallyStieglitz
A moving tribute to the author's mother and his uneven and sometimes agonizing relationship with her. Alexie takes us on a journey of self exploration with a few surprising twists and much self reflection.
LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
This was my first Sherman Alexie book. I definitely look forward to reading his other books. This was a memoir written after his mother died. It's a mixture of poetry and prose describing his life and his love/hate relationship with his mother. I think I would like to listen to this book as well
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since he reads it. It was a lot to take in and I had to read it too fast since it was due back to the library! More later on this.
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LibraryThing member -Eva-
A collection of short stories and poems that make up Alexie's memoir of his childhood and his mother. I knew that Alexie's childhood had been less than great, but it was a heck of a lot worse than I had thought; those of us who did not grow up on a reservation should thank our lucky stars. It is
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sometimes a difficult read, but it is so genuine in its grief that it shines brightly through the darkness. Alexie is also one of the few poets I enjoy since his poetry is so accessible. Really tough read, but definitely worth the effort.
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LibraryThing member clamairy
This was my first Alexie book, and I loved it. His writing is very powerful stuff. He's hilarious, irreverent and completely enthralling. Oh, and heartbreaking. (As in ripping out your still beating heart and serving it up on a platter for your inspection.)

I'll be adding more of his stuff to Mount
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Toobey, for sure.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
I have only read one previous book by this author, his rather well known [book:The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian|693208]. Never knew how autobiographical it really was, but after reading this I can definitely see where he was coming from. Searing in it's honestly, this is a powerful
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telling of his life, hard to read at times, but his ironic wit keeps it bearable. His conflicted feelings toward his mother, even after her death, so many things he could not understand. Made for repetitious reading at times as he tries in different ways to work out these feelings. Uses poetry, essays and thoughts, chronicling his health, which is another difficult subject as he has been through so much, his therapy, his family and all class, prejudice and his treatment because of this, and much more. Some incidents are humorous, some unbelievable, some so sad, can't help feeling sorry for the young boy he was and applaud the success, hard won, that he has as an adult.

Actually made the book, Glass Castle, seem tame.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member decaturmamaof2
I laugh-cried (or sob-laughed?) my way through this amazing memoir -- part poetry, part prose. Alexie mines his life and polishes those moments to a shining brilliance. Will read again!!!
LibraryThing member nmele
What most impressed me about Alexie's memoir is his pain and the pain of so many American Indians which he expresses through poetry, humor and vulnerability. It makes his admission of sexually inappropriate behavior that much harder to take; obviously, his demons are still much with him. My heart
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goes out to his wife and children.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
I read last year that Alexie cancelled his book tour after only a couple readings because he realized he wouldn't be able to do it. This is his memoir of his life growing up on the Spokane reservation. He focuses a lot on his very difficult relationship with his mother. It's raw, it's
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uncomfortable. If you haven't read his novels, it will be even more shocking. Part of the book is told in poems. It made me want to read more poetry.
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LibraryThing member Daumari
Oh man, what a way to begin my 2018 reads. In You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Sherman Alexie remembers, celebrates, mourns, and reflects on his mother, Lillian Alexie, through 78 poems and 78 essays (she was 78 when she passed). They seem to be chronological, from when his mother was diagnosed
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with terminal cancer, through her passing, to the months later, though some poems and anecdotes are revisited and revised later, as a nod to the unreliability of memory of an exquisitely serial fabulist.

Painful, complicated feelings regarding his mother lie alongside recognizing her fierceness, and her pains. Some of the essays also address Alexie's youth on the rez- I found that essay #79: The Game really resonated with me, as it describes the paradox of being a celebrated brown kid in his predominantly white high school in Reardon, WA while knowing that his peers and teachers grew up to go >70% for Trump in the 2016 election. I quoted it during my page reads, but he mentions intended-as-benign-but-harmful "I don't think of you as an Indian" (or insert other minority) that comes from both well-intended conservatives and liberals. That somehow, they identify 'normalness' or assimilation with being white/default, implying that others can't also be a writer/student/person unless falling under that lack of label. It erases our identities. From page 222 in the hardcover: "It's easy for a white racist to fall in love with an accept one member of a minority-one Indian-and their real and perceived talents and flaws. But it's much tougher for a racist to accept a dozen Indians. And impossible for a white racist to accept the entire race of Indians- or an entire race of any nonwhite people."

Anyway, a good read, and I'll definitely pursue more of Sherman's work in the future.
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LibraryThing member nicholasjjordan
Awe-inspiring meditation on grief and life. I'll reread it and seek out Alexie's poetry as I've not before.
LibraryThing member jaylcee
Disappointed. Have read many of his books. Found very little to like about this one.
LibraryThing member jekka
This audiobook broke my heart and (mostly) put it back together about 20 times. At least 20 times.
LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
The mixture of poetry and short stories, many times overlapping, make this memoir phenomenal. I'm a big fan of Alexie's writing. I've read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with many students at the high school where I teach. However, it's my years teaching at Lummi Tribal School that
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truly help me appreciate Sherman Alexie. He actually writes about teachers like me in this book. The liberal, white teacher that comes to the rez to teach, but only last a year or two (2 for me) because it's hard work, and they're underpaid. He also writes about family and how he is connected as well as disconnected from them in a way that most can relate. I was glad I had the audio as well as the ebook to read. Listening to Alexie read his poetry was beautiful.
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LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
Perhaps the most painful 5-star book I've read and listened to (I had to do both simultaneously as Alexie is the reader). I need to write the rest of my review privately.




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