Name me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

The novel Name me Nobody was written by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, born on September 7th, 1961 in Ho?olehua, Hawaii. She attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she received both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree. She wrote many books, including a book of poems called Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre in 1993, a novel called Heads by Harry in 1998, and Name Me Nobody in 2000. Lois-Ann Yamanaka is currently writing, teaching, and co-owning a writing school called Na`au. She has won numerous awards including the National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 1990, the Pushcart Prize for Poetry in 1993, the Rona Jaffe Award for Women Writers in 1996 and the Asian American Literary Award in 1998. (Yamanaka)

Yamanaka began writing Name me Nobody in 1999, gearing the novel toward an adolescent-based audience. The location, inspiration, and reasons behind writing the novel are unknown. However, I would imagine her motivations for writing would include past experiences growing up in Hawaii and wanting to share Hawaiin literature with the rest of the world. (Wikipedia)

Name me Nobody is a young adult novel told in the first person; although the narration is told in English, all dialect is written in Pidgin (Hawaiin dialect.) Fourteen year old Emi-lou Kaya lives with her grandmother in rural Hawaii; her mother became pregnant as a teenager, abandoning her when she was a baby, and she doesn’t know who her father is. The novel follows Emi-Lou as she navigates freshman year in rural Hawaii. The novel begins with Emi-Lou’s best friend Yvonne starting Emi-Lou on a strict diet and exercise routine to get rid of Emi-Lou’s excess fat. Emi-Lou and Yvonne have nicknamed each other “Louie” and “Von”. Emi-Lou and Yvonne are the same age and although Yvonne is quite harsh with Emi-Lou’s diet restrictions, Yvonne truly loves Emi-Lou and has always stood up for her when classmates have teased her about her weight.

Von and Louie join the local girls’ softball team as part of Louie’s exercise regimen, despite the protests of Charlie, Von’s father, protests. Charlie thinks the girls on the softball team are “…all so short hair, man clothes, truck driving… so damn ballsy.” (12) At first, Von encourages Louie to try her hardest during practice but begins ignoring Louie when Von becomes close with a girl whom Louie immediately dislikes. Afraid Von will replace her as a best friend with Babes, Emi-Lou becomes desperate, especially when she realizes that Von and Babes have romantic feelings for each other.

The climax of the novel occurs when Emi-Lou’s long-absent mother visits but doesn’t seem to care about Emi-Lou in the slightest (Emi-Lou later finds out that her grandmother payed her mother to visit.) Emi-Lou is also upset because Yvonne isn’t there. Later, Emi-Lou storms in on Yvonne and Babes making out, “etc.” in the school bathroom stall, attempting to end their relationship and turn Yvonne “normal” (straight). Babes beats Emi-Lou up and Yvonne doesn’t do anything. Emi-Lou eventually tells her grandmother that Yvonne is gay, breaking the promise she once made to Yvonne. Yvonne’s father finds out about Yvonne’s sexuality and threatens to kick Yvonne out of the house. Emi-Lou shouts at Yvonne for letting Babes beat her up. Yvonne snaps and says, “That was your fault… You never did accept Babes… You never did accept me. How you like that, Louie?” (202)

The denouement occurs when Emi-Lou’s grandmother explains to Emi-Lou that things will never be the way they used to but they don’t have to be bad, either. Yvonne begins wearing a gold engagement ring and Emi-Lou begins to accept Yvonne’s sexuality and her relationship with Babes. The novel ends with Emi-Lou and Yvonne starting a hopeful new friendship.

There are many interesting themes in Name me Nobody. Yamanaka shows both the joys and difficulties of teenage years and the surrounding superficialities. Complex friendships and relationships are illustrated as part of the novel, as well as other challenges such as rape, drugs, and alcohol abuse. A good lesson to be learned from Name me Nobody is the fact that not accepting somebody can cause deep rivets in friendships and that deciding to try and accept the person for who they are can help a friendship flourish.

I truly enjoyed Name me Nobody and consider it to be a very memorable book. There was one factor in particular, that for me, set Name Me Nobody apart from various other “chick-flick” type novels. I thought it was very interesting that Name me Nobody dealt with lesbian relationships and how they are both similar and different from straight relationships among teenage girls. Louie was certain that she was straight but she had to deal with everyone assuming she was gay too because she and Von were so close. I loved the complexity of Yamanaka’s characters; the story was not told in black and white viewpoints. Emi-Lou and Yvonne could be both protagonists and antagonists at the same time. The Hawaiin dialect writing style was hard to understand at times, especially since the rest of the narration was told in plain English. However, all in all, Name me Nobody was a great book.