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Top left photo courtesy Lee Towndrow/Little, Brown and Company

On his first day in the seventh grade, Sherman Alexie opened up his school-assigned math book and found his mother’s maiden name written in it. “I was looking at a 30-year-old math book,” he says — and that was the moment he knew that he needed to leave his home.

Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in the state of Washington. His mother was one of the few people who could still speak the native language, but she didn’t teach it to him. In his new memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, he describes growing up surrounded by poverty, alcoholism and violence.

Check out his conversation with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross here.

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Sherman Alexie’s new children’s book stars Thunder Boy Smith, a little boy who was named after his dad. “People call him Big Thunder,” the boy says of his father. “That nickname is a storm filling up the sky. People call me Little Thunder. That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart.”  Over the course of Thunder Boy Jr., the boy emerges from his dad’s shadow to become his own person.

Alexie tells NPR’s David Green that he found inspiration for the book in a surprising place: his own dad’s funeral. 

Sherman Alexie On His New Kids’ Book And The Angst Of Being A ‘Jr.’