review: We Are Not Broken

title: We Are Not Broken
author: George M. Johnson
date: LIttle, Brown; September, 2021
YA memoir; LGBTQIA+; African American

We Are Not Broken is a forth-coming memoir about Johnson’s childhood growing up in his nana’s house. I think both the book and his life is testament to his nana, Louise Kennedy Evans Elder who was his family’s matriarch.

In his book, Johnson writes about the things that were done to him and that he experienced when he was a child; things that felt like love at that time. As he describes these events from his past, many readers may seek to judge on our terms but these events – times with his cousins, outings in the community and expectations from nana – are distilled through his reflections into the love, and sometimes trauma, they provided. He provides context for understanding and accepting. I think in the way his grown-up self makes sense of his childhood, he tells young readers to just hang in there; life does get better. It’s a book that should be available in public, and some school libraries.

The simplicity of his writing conveys an honesty that helps us digest the complexities of our humanity. Despite it all, because of it all, we are not broken. Not only are we whole, but we are joy-filled.

Johnson’s previous book, All Boys Aren’t Blue : A Memoir Manifesto reflected on his life growing up queer in Virginia and New Jersey. I think in We Are Not Broken, his second memoir, Johnson chooses to write about everyday experiences that uses he reminds us that queer children are children. And, that we can all choose the joy.

I haven’t done a book pairing in quite a while, but I would definitely pair this with Netflix’s In Our Mother’s Gardens. Collectively, these pieces solidify the contributions of Black mothers and grandmothers to their family’s material and spiritual well-being. They address the trauma that comes from being Black men and Black women in the United States while celebrating ways to overcome. A collective study of We Are Not Broken along with In Our Mother’s Gardens will certainly explore the history of gender and sexuality in Black families and how today’s generation is able to liberate themselves from what that entails.