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 their nana’s house. I think both the book and their life stands as testament to their nana, Louise Kennedy Evans Elder who was the family’s matriarch.

In the book, Johnson writes about the things they experienced as a child; things that felt like love at that time. As they describe events from the past, many readers may seek to judge on our terms but these events – times with their cousins, outings in the community and expectations from nana – are distilled through Johnson’s reflections into the love, and sometimes trauma, they provided. They provide context for understanding and accepting. I think in the way their grown-up self makes sense of their childhood, Johnson 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 Johnson’s 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 their life growing up queer in Virginia and New Jersey. I think in We Are Not Broken, their second memoir, Johnson chooses to write about everyday experiences that serve to remind 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. Both works 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 both gender and sexuality in Black families and how today’s generation is able to liberate self from what that entails.