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I'm Not Broken

A Memoir

Author Jesse Leon
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Paperback
$17.00 US
5.15"W x 7.94"H x 0.73"D  
On sale Aug 23, 2022 | 336 Pages | 9780593466513
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
In this unflinching and inspiring memoir, Jesse Leon tells an extraordinary story of resilience and survival, shining a light on a childhood spent devastated by sex trafficking, street life, and substance abuse.
 
Born to indigenous working-class Mexican immigrants in San Diego in the 1970s, Jesse Leon’s childhood was violently ruptured. A dangerous and harrowing encounter at a local gift shop when he was eleven years old left Jesse with a deadly secret. Hurt, alone, and scared for his life, Jesse numbed his pain by losing himself in the hyper-masculine culture of the streets and wherever else he could find it—in alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. Overlooked by state-sanctioned institutions and systems intended to help victims of abuse, neglected like many other low-income Latinos, Jesse spiraled into cycles of suicide and substance abuse.
 
I’m Not Broken is the heartbreaking and remarkable story of the journey Jesse takes to win back his life, leading him to the steps of Harvard University. From being the lone young person of color in Narcotics Anonymous meetings to coming to terms with his own sexual identity, to becoming an engaged mentor for incarcerated youth, Jesse finds the will to live with the love and support of his family, friends, and mentors. Recounting the extraordinary circumstances of his life, Jesse offers a powerful, raw testament to the possibilities of self-transformation and self-acceptance. Unforgettable, I’m Not Broken is an inspirational portrait of one young man’s indomitable strength and spirit to survive—against all possible odds.

“Leon's memoir is a powerful, raw chronicle of survival that morphs into a moving story about mentorship, strength, familial love, self-transformation, the power of education, and the importance of self-acceptance.” —NPR

I'm Not Broken should be a required reading for every future educator, social worker, counselor, or mental health worker. Jesse Leon reminds the reader of the depth and complexity of every human we meet and their potential to emerge from even the darkest of spaces. He offers his vulnerability, so that we, as a society, can look at ourselves and begin the work to find solutions and change.” —Jennie Luna, Ph.D., Associate Professor Chicana/o Studies at California State University Channel Islands

I’m Not Broken is a brave and inspiring story of triumph over adversity. Jesse Leon overcame many barriers on his route to graduate school. His story illustrates the value of perseverance towards educational attainment.” —Professor Christopher Avery, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School

"I'm Not Broken is an introspective, critical examination of one person's resiliency and determination to achieve success. Jesse Leon shares his self-reflection on personal and familial struggles in the context of societal prejudice, discrimination, and lack of access to needed services. This book is a perfect read for a class on human behavior and the environment." —Dr. David Pate, Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare

“As Jesse Leon writes at the end of this powerful work, ‘bootstrapping’ doesn’t quite capture his life’s journey. To be sure, there is personal inspiration in Jesse’s story.  But there is also deep understanding of family, community, ethnicity, and society in this book—all of which Jesse captures with perspective and insight that we all need.” —Professor Joseph Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University

“In this powerful new book, Jesus Leon describes the numerous challenges and hardships he encountered as a youth, and how he managed to never succumb to defeat or failure. His journey is one that far too many young people in America will be able to relate to. For that reason, the stories he shares on how he managed to prevail and retain a positive sense of self and dignity despite the odds he faced, will serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement for those who need it most, and even for those who don't. I'm Not Broken is a powerful reminder that the human spirit can truly be resilient when it's fed by faith, love and hope.” —Pedro Noguera, Dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education

“A raw and riveting testimonio of loss, hope, and liberation! Jesse Leon’s I’m Not Broken will claim its rightful place alongside seminal memoirs like Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart, Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, and Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold.” —Gilberto Q. Conchas, Wayne K. and Anita Woolfolk Hoy Endowed Professorship of Education, The Pennsylvania State University

“A staggering tale of survival . . . Leon’s story of resilience pulsates with verve and breathtaking grace. The result is a gripping portrait of perseverance that radiates with humanity.” —Publishers Weekly

“Viscerally moving. . . . A remarkable story of fortitude and personal transformation.” —Kirkus Reviews

"A raw, emotional memoir filled with highs and lows. The inspirational ending gives readers hope when Leon uses his self-will and determination to change and accept the love from those around him.” —Library Journal, starred review
 
“I’m Not Broken is a book for survivors and those who know someone they hope survives, bodhisattvas all." —Sandra Cisneros

“A book detailing Mr. Leon’s battles against unparalleled circumstances, from poverty to addiction to assault, can be at once a critical look at the ways in which we fail young people in our communities and also a story of how, by the grace of God, we find in our midst a man like Jesse Leon, making sacrifices so that others might not suffer.” —Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award winner for Moonlight
 
“This emotionally unyielding memoir recounts a life lived with no shortage of harrowing experiences, but also a life renewed thanks to a profound inner strength and an unrelenting determination to overcome.” —Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation
© Martin Mann
Jesse Leon is a social impact consultant to foundations and investors on ways to address issues of substance abuse/addiction, affordable housing, and mental health. He is a native English and Spanish speaker and fluent in Portuguese. He is an alum of UC Berkeley and Harvard and based in San Diego. View titles by Jesse Leon
Prologue

Espi, as my ama was named at birth, didn’t stay in school past fifth grade in Mexico, where she grew up. She had spent most of her life in the United States working periodically as a nanny, a farm laborer, and a dishwasher. She didn’t even know what Harvard was. But when I was four years old, she made sure to place me in Head Start, an early education program for low-income families, where she volunteered between her two jobs. When I was in elementary school, she was PTA president. She cared so much about our education that she got a part-time job at the school’s cafeteria serving lunch. She became known as the Lunch Mom. During the two hours between her breakfast and lunch shifts, she volunteered at the school, doing whatever she could to make it a better place. She stayed there as I progressed to middle school and high school.

When I was a kid, I never thought twice about the types of jobs my mom worked because so many of my friends’ parents were farmworkers and dishwashers. I was happy when my mom got a job at the school cafeteria, because it made her happy. It gave her, and us, stability. At least, that’s what I overheard her tell the neighbors.

For me, though, that job became a thorn in the side. Every time I’d get into trouble, the teachers or other students would tattle to my mom. And my mom didn’t talk quietly; she talked by yelling. So every time she heard I was up to no good, she would find me in class, pull me hard by the arm, and shout at me to behave. In front of other students and teachers, I would be filled with shame. It felt like my mom always had eyes on me. She was there to pressure me, to make sure I did well in school. I didn’t like Ama yelling at me. Although she never told me this herself, I felt I was making her look bad in front of people, especially the teachers. So I tried my best to not disappoint my mom.

Ama was a healthy, solidly built woman standing at five feet, five inches tall with a round face and glasses. I remember she had wavy black hair that flowed down her back. But at some point, while I was still a young kid, she cut it short for practical reasons. It was too thick to maintain while raising kids and was especially inconvenient when working in kitchens. She was working too much to care for her physical appearance. I’ve never known her to get a manicure or a pedicure. My father, who was fiercely Catholic, never allowed her to wear lipstick, makeup, or nail polish. So she looked like a simple Mexican immigrant with olive skin, big lips and cheeks, and a smile that lit up any room she walked in. As the years passed, she gained weight. She became diabetic and had high blood pressure. But she always maintained her joyful spirit, and she loved making other people happy. Most of all, she was never ashamed of being poor.

When I got accepted to Harvard, I called Ama from my tiny apartment in Berkeley, where I was living at the time, to share the good news. I was giddy with excitement.

“¿Y qué es eso?” she asked. And what’s that? “¿Ay, mijo, pero por qué Boston? Es muy lejos. Tienen muy buenas universidades aqui en San Diego. Y en las noticias dicen que hace mucho frío allá y te puedes enfermar. ¿Por qué no mejor te regresas a casa y vienes a la escuela acá?”

Immediately my spirits fell. I had disappointed Ama, who had never heard of Harvard or Cambridge. And I was angry at our life’s circumstances. To my mom, Boston was a far-off place at the other end of the country. She hadn’t heard of UC Berkeley, where I did my undergrad, my carrera, either. But she knew it was in California, and close by. She understood what that carrera was. In her mind, a bachelor’s degree was all I needed to be successful in the United States. She reasoned that I simply didn’t want to move back home.

Even though she had little formal education, Ama learned the names of the local colleges and universities because these were the places the teachers she worked with talked about. San Diego State University (SDSU) was the best of the best, and she dreamed that I would attend there. She didn’t realize that there could be better opportunities elsewhere.

“Okay, Mom,” I told her. “Thanks. I love you. I gotta go. I have a class that I need to get to.” I lied just to get off the phone.

“I am super proud of you,” she assured me.
           
I didn’t doubt her pride in me, but I cried tears of anger and sadness when I hung up the phone. I was angry that we were poor. I was angry that my mom worked so hard and still she didn’t have the luxury of knowing what I knew. I was angry at the injustice of it all.

The day before I was to leave for Harvard, I picked up my mom from work, when the secretary at the elementary school explained to me how Ama finally accepted that I would be leaving. Ama was sitting in the school cafeteria during her break between the breakfast and lunch shifts when the school’s secretary walked in. Ama was wearing her hairnet and a work apron over her usual flower-patterned blouse. She sat on a cold plastic school lunch bench in the middle of the cold, drab concrete room. She was crying, all alone, with her head between her hands. Shocked, the secretary asked my mom, “Espi, why are you crying? Are you okay?”

“Mi hijo. Primero lo perdí a las drogas. Luego se me fue para Berkeley. Y ahora se me va a una escuela en Boston que se llama Harr-varrd. Por qué no regresa aqui a estudiar para estar cerca a la familia? Aquí esta la major Universidad en San Diego.” Ama pleaded in Spanish. Why didn’t I come home and go to school close to my family? The best university was here in San Diego!

The secretary hugged Ama while she sobbed and asked her, “What school did you just say your son is going to?”

“Se llama Harr-varrd. En Boston. Solo Dios sabe donde queda Boston. Me dicen que esta muy lejos hasta allá cerca de Nueva York. ¿Usted se imagina? ¡Nueva York!”

The secretary held her by the shoulders, looked at her tear-covered face and directly into her eyes, and said, “Are you kidding? It’s Harvard?”

She then went directly to the teacher’s lounge and wrote on the board: Please congratulate Espi. Her son just got accepted to Harvard!

And so everyone did. Teacher after teacher, and even the principal, came by to congratulate Ama that day. Her tears of sadness turned into tears of joy. She looked up to these teachers, and she finally began to understand that Harvard was one of the best and most prestigious schools in the world. And her son, who she had sacrificed so much for, was going to be attending Harvard.
  • FINALIST | 2023
    Lambda Literary Award
AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR One of the Best Books of the Year: The San Francisco Chronicle and Book Scrolling

Lambda Literary Award Finalist


"I’m Not Broken is a book for survivors and those who know someone they hope survives, bodhisattvas all."  
—Sandra Cisneros

"Leon's memoir is a powerful, raw chronicle of survival that morphs into a moving story about mentorship, strength, familial love, self-transformation, the power of education, and the importance of self-acceptance."
NPR


“A book detailing Mr. Leon’s battles against unparalleled circumstances, from poverty to addiction to assault, can be at once a critical look at the ways in which we fail young people in our communities and also a story of how, by the grace of God, we find in our midst a man like Jesse Leon, making sacrifices so that others might not suffer.”
—Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award winner for Moonlight
 
“This emotionally unyielding memoir recounts a life lived with no shortage of harrowing experiences, but also a life renewed thanks to a profound inner strength and an unrelenting determination to overcome.”
—Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation
 
I'm Not Broken is a powerful reminder that the human spirit can truly be resilient when it's fed by faith, love and hope.”
—Pedro Noguera, Dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education

“A raw and riveting testimonio of loss, hope, and liberation! Jesse Leon’s I’m Not Broken will claim its rightful place alongside seminal memoirs like Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart, Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, and Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold. —Gilberto Q. Conchas, Wayne K. and Anita Woolfolk Hoy Endowed Professorship of Education, The Pennsylvania State University


“As Jesse Leon writes at the end of this powerful work, ‘bootstrapping’ doesn’t quite capture his life’s journey. To be sure, there is personal inspiration in Jesse’s story.  But there is also deep understanding of family, community, ethnicity, and society in this book—all of which Jesse captures with perspective and insight that we all need.”
—Professor Joseph Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University


I’m Not Broken is a brave and inspiring story of triumph over adversity. Jesse Leon overcame many barriers on his route to graduate school. His story illustrates the value of perseverance towards educational attainment.”
—Professor Christopher Avery, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School

"I'm Not Broken is an introspective, critical examination of one person's resiliency and determination to achieve success. Jesse Leon shares his self-reflection on personal and familial struggles in the context of societal prejudice, discrimination, and lack of access to needed services. This book is a perfect read for a class on human behavior and the environment." —Dr. David Pate, Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare

I'm Not Broken should be a required reading for every future educator, social worker, counselor, or mental health worker. Jesse Leon reminds the reader of the depth and complexity of every human we meet and their potential to emerge from even the darkest of spaces. He offers his vulnerability, so that we, as a society, can look at ourselves and begin the work to find solutions and change.”
—Jennie Luna, Ph.D., Associate Professor Chicana/o Studies at California State University Channel Islands


"A raw, emotional memoir filled with highs and lows. The inspirational ending gives readers hope when Leon uses his self-will and determination to change and accept the love from those around him."
Library Journal, starred review

"Viscerally moving . . . A remarkable story of fortitude and personal transformation."
Kirkus Reviews

"A staggering tale of survival . . . Leon’s story of resilience pulsates with verve and breathtaking grace. The result is a gripping portrait of perseverance that radiates with humanity."
Publishers Weekly

About

In this unflinching and inspiring memoir, Jesse Leon tells an extraordinary story of resilience and survival, shining a light on a childhood spent devastated by sex trafficking, street life, and substance abuse.
 
Born to indigenous working-class Mexican immigrants in San Diego in the 1970s, Jesse Leon’s childhood was violently ruptured. A dangerous and harrowing encounter at a local gift shop when he was eleven years old left Jesse with a deadly secret. Hurt, alone, and scared for his life, Jesse numbed his pain by losing himself in the hyper-masculine culture of the streets and wherever else he could find it—in alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. Overlooked by state-sanctioned institutions and systems intended to help victims of abuse, neglected like many other low-income Latinos, Jesse spiraled into cycles of suicide and substance abuse.
 
I’m Not Broken is the heartbreaking and remarkable story of the journey Jesse takes to win back his life, leading him to the steps of Harvard University. From being the lone young person of color in Narcotics Anonymous meetings to coming to terms with his own sexual identity, to becoming an engaged mentor for incarcerated youth, Jesse finds the will to live with the love and support of his family, friends, and mentors. Recounting the extraordinary circumstances of his life, Jesse offers a powerful, raw testament to the possibilities of self-transformation and self-acceptance. Unforgettable, I’m Not Broken is an inspirational portrait of one young man’s indomitable strength and spirit to survive—against all possible odds.

“Leon's memoir is a powerful, raw chronicle of survival that morphs into a moving story about mentorship, strength, familial love, self-transformation, the power of education, and the importance of self-acceptance.” —NPR

I'm Not Broken should be a required reading for every future educator, social worker, counselor, or mental health worker. Jesse Leon reminds the reader of the depth and complexity of every human we meet and their potential to emerge from even the darkest of spaces. He offers his vulnerability, so that we, as a society, can look at ourselves and begin the work to find solutions and change.” —Jennie Luna, Ph.D., Associate Professor Chicana/o Studies at California State University Channel Islands

I’m Not Broken is a brave and inspiring story of triumph over adversity. Jesse Leon overcame many barriers on his route to graduate school. His story illustrates the value of perseverance towards educational attainment.” —Professor Christopher Avery, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School

"I'm Not Broken is an introspective, critical examination of one person's resiliency and determination to achieve success. Jesse Leon shares his self-reflection on personal and familial struggles in the context of societal prejudice, discrimination, and lack of access to needed services. This book is a perfect read for a class on human behavior and the environment." —Dr. David Pate, Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare

“As Jesse Leon writes at the end of this powerful work, ‘bootstrapping’ doesn’t quite capture his life’s journey. To be sure, there is personal inspiration in Jesse’s story.  But there is also deep understanding of family, community, ethnicity, and society in this book—all of which Jesse captures with perspective and insight that we all need.” —Professor Joseph Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University

“In this powerful new book, Jesus Leon describes the numerous challenges and hardships he encountered as a youth, and how he managed to never succumb to defeat or failure. His journey is one that far too many young people in America will be able to relate to. For that reason, the stories he shares on how he managed to prevail and retain a positive sense of self and dignity despite the odds he faced, will serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement for those who need it most, and even for those who don't. I'm Not Broken is a powerful reminder that the human spirit can truly be resilient when it's fed by faith, love and hope.” —Pedro Noguera, Dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education

“A raw and riveting testimonio of loss, hope, and liberation! Jesse Leon’s I’m Not Broken will claim its rightful place alongside seminal memoirs like Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart, Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, and Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold.” —Gilberto Q. Conchas, Wayne K. and Anita Woolfolk Hoy Endowed Professorship of Education, The Pennsylvania State University

“A staggering tale of survival . . . Leon’s story of resilience pulsates with verve and breathtaking grace. The result is a gripping portrait of perseverance that radiates with humanity.” —Publishers Weekly

“Viscerally moving. . . . A remarkable story of fortitude and personal transformation.” —Kirkus Reviews

"A raw, emotional memoir filled with highs and lows. The inspirational ending gives readers hope when Leon uses his self-will and determination to change and accept the love from those around him.” —Library Journal, starred review
 
“I’m Not Broken is a book for survivors and those who know someone they hope survives, bodhisattvas all." —Sandra Cisneros

“A book detailing Mr. Leon’s battles against unparalleled circumstances, from poverty to addiction to assault, can be at once a critical look at the ways in which we fail young people in our communities and also a story of how, by the grace of God, we find in our midst a man like Jesse Leon, making sacrifices so that others might not suffer.” —Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award winner for Moonlight
 
“This emotionally unyielding memoir recounts a life lived with no shortage of harrowing experiences, but also a life renewed thanks to a profound inner strength and an unrelenting determination to overcome.” —Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation

Author

© Martin Mann
Jesse Leon is a social impact consultant to foundations and investors on ways to address issues of substance abuse/addiction, affordable housing, and mental health. He is a native English and Spanish speaker and fluent in Portuguese. He is an alum of UC Berkeley and Harvard and based in San Diego. View titles by Jesse Leon

Excerpt

Prologue

Espi, as my ama was named at birth, didn’t stay in school past fifth grade in Mexico, where she grew up. She had spent most of her life in the United States working periodically as a nanny, a farm laborer, and a dishwasher. She didn’t even know what Harvard was. But when I was four years old, she made sure to place me in Head Start, an early education program for low-income families, where she volunteered between her two jobs. When I was in elementary school, she was PTA president. She cared so much about our education that she got a part-time job at the school’s cafeteria serving lunch. She became known as the Lunch Mom. During the two hours between her breakfast and lunch shifts, she volunteered at the school, doing whatever she could to make it a better place. She stayed there as I progressed to middle school and high school.

When I was a kid, I never thought twice about the types of jobs my mom worked because so many of my friends’ parents were farmworkers and dishwashers. I was happy when my mom got a job at the school cafeteria, because it made her happy. It gave her, and us, stability. At least, that’s what I overheard her tell the neighbors.

For me, though, that job became a thorn in the side. Every time I’d get into trouble, the teachers or other students would tattle to my mom. And my mom didn’t talk quietly; she talked by yelling. So every time she heard I was up to no good, she would find me in class, pull me hard by the arm, and shout at me to behave. In front of other students and teachers, I would be filled with shame. It felt like my mom always had eyes on me. She was there to pressure me, to make sure I did well in school. I didn’t like Ama yelling at me. Although she never told me this herself, I felt I was making her look bad in front of people, especially the teachers. So I tried my best to not disappoint my mom.

Ama was a healthy, solidly built woman standing at five feet, five inches tall with a round face and glasses. I remember she had wavy black hair that flowed down her back. But at some point, while I was still a young kid, she cut it short for practical reasons. It was too thick to maintain while raising kids and was especially inconvenient when working in kitchens. She was working too much to care for her physical appearance. I’ve never known her to get a manicure or a pedicure. My father, who was fiercely Catholic, never allowed her to wear lipstick, makeup, or nail polish. So she looked like a simple Mexican immigrant with olive skin, big lips and cheeks, and a smile that lit up any room she walked in. As the years passed, she gained weight. She became diabetic and had high blood pressure. But she always maintained her joyful spirit, and she loved making other people happy. Most of all, she was never ashamed of being poor.

When I got accepted to Harvard, I called Ama from my tiny apartment in Berkeley, where I was living at the time, to share the good news. I was giddy with excitement.

“¿Y qué es eso?” she asked. And what’s that? “¿Ay, mijo, pero por qué Boston? Es muy lejos. Tienen muy buenas universidades aqui en San Diego. Y en las noticias dicen que hace mucho frío allá y te puedes enfermar. ¿Por qué no mejor te regresas a casa y vienes a la escuela acá?”

Immediately my spirits fell. I had disappointed Ama, who had never heard of Harvard or Cambridge. And I was angry at our life’s circumstances. To my mom, Boston was a far-off place at the other end of the country. She hadn’t heard of UC Berkeley, where I did my undergrad, my carrera, either. But she knew it was in California, and close by. She understood what that carrera was. In her mind, a bachelor’s degree was all I needed to be successful in the United States. She reasoned that I simply didn’t want to move back home.

Even though she had little formal education, Ama learned the names of the local colleges and universities because these were the places the teachers she worked with talked about. San Diego State University (SDSU) was the best of the best, and she dreamed that I would attend there. She didn’t realize that there could be better opportunities elsewhere.

“Okay, Mom,” I told her. “Thanks. I love you. I gotta go. I have a class that I need to get to.” I lied just to get off the phone.

“I am super proud of you,” she assured me.
           
I didn’t doubt her pride in me, but I cried tears of anger and sadness when I hung up the phone. I was angry that we were poor. I was angry that my mom worked so hard and still she didn’t have the luxury of knowing what I knew. I was angry at the injustice of it all.

The day before I was to leave for Harvard, I picked up my mom from work, when the secretary at the elementary school explained to me how Ama finally accepted that I would be leaving. Ama was sitting in the school cafeteria during her break between the breakfast and lunch shifts when the school’s secretary walked in. Ama was wearing her hairnet and a work apron over her usual flower-patterned blouse. She sat on a cold plastic school lunch bench in the middle of the cold, drab concrete room. She was crying, all alone, with her head between her hands. Shocked, the secretary asked my mom, “Espi, why are you crying? Are you okay?”

“Mi hijo. Primero lo perdí a las drogas. Luego se me fue para Berkeley. Y ahora se me va a una escuela en Boston que se llama Harr-varrd. Por qué no regresa aqui a estudiar para estar cerca a la familia? Aquí esta la major Universidad en San Diego.” Ama pleaded in Spanish. Why didn’t I come home and go to school close to my family? The best university was here in San Diego!

The secretary hugged Ama while she sobbed and asked her, “What school did you just say your son is going to?”

“Se llama Harr-varrd. En Boston. Solo Dios sabe donde queda Boston. Me dicen que esta muy lejos hasta allá cerca de Nueva York. ¿Usted se imagina? ¡Nueva York!”

The secretary held her by the shoulders, looked at her tear-covered face and directly into her eyes, and said, “Are you kidding? It’s Harvard?”

She then went directly to the teacher’s lounge and wrote on the board: Please congratulate Espi. Her son just got accepted to Harvard!

And so everyone did. Teacher after teacher, and even the principal, came by to congratulate Ama that day. Her tears of sadness turned into tears of joy. She looked up to these teachers, and she finally began to understand that Harvard was one of the best and most prestigious schools in the world. And her son, who she had sacrificed so much for, was going to be attending Harvard.

Awards

  • FINALIST | 2023
    Lambda Literary Award

Praise

AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR One of the Best Books of the Year: The San Francisco Chronicle and Book Scrolling

Lambda Literary Award Finalist


"I’m Not Broken is a book for survivors and those who know someone they hope survives, bodhisattvas all."  
—Sandra Cisneros

"Leon's memoir is a powerful, raw chronicle of survival that morphs into a moving story about mentorship, strength, familial love, self-transformation, the power of education, and the importance of self-acceptance."
NPR


“A book detailing Mr. Leon’s battles against unparalleled circumstances, from poverty to addiction to assault, can be at once a critical look at the ways in which we fail young people in our communities and also a story of how, by the grace of God, we find in our midst a man like Jesse Leon, making sacrifices so that others might not suffer.”
—Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award winner for Moonlight
 
“This emotionally unyielding memoir recounts a life lived with no shortage of harrowing experiences, but also a life renewed thanks to a profound inner strength and an unrelenting determination to overcome.”
—Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation
 
I'm Not Broken is a powerful reminder that the human spirit can truly be resilient when it's fed by faith, love and hope.”
—Pedro Noguera, Dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education

“A raw and riveting testimonio of loss, hope, and liberation! Jesse Leon’s I’m Not Broken will claim its rightful place alongside seminal memoirs like Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart, Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, and Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold. —Gilberto Q. Conchas, Wayne K. and Anita Woolfolk Hoy Endowed Professorship of Education, The Pennsylvania State University


“As Jesse Leon writes at the end of this powerful work, ‘bootstrapping’ doesn’t quite capture his life’s journey. To be sure, there is personal inspiration in Jesse’s story.  But there is also deep understanding of family, community, ethnicity, and society in this book—all of which Jesse captures with perspective and insight that we all need.”
—Professor Joseph Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University


I’m Not Broken is a brave and inspiring story of triumph over adversity. Jesse Leon overcame many barriers on his route to graduate school. His story illustrates the value of perseverance towards educational attainment.”
—Professor Christopher Avery, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School

"I'm Not Broken is an introspective, critical examination of one person's resiliency and determination to achieve success. Jesse Leon shares his self-reflection on personal and familial struggles in the context of societal prejudice, discrimination, and lack of access to needed services. This book is a perfect read for a class on human behavior and the environment." —Dr. David Pate, Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare

I'm Not Broken should be a required reading for every future educator, social worker, counselor, or mental health worker. Jesse Leon reminds the reader of the depth and complexity of every human we meet and their potential to emerge from even the darkest of spaces. He offers his vulnerability, so that we, as a society, can look at ourselves and begin the work to find solutions and change.”
—Jennie Luna, Ph.D., Associate Professor Chicana/o Studies at California State University Channel Islands


"A raw, emotional memoir filled with highs and lows. The inspirational ending gives readers hope when Leon uses his self-will and determination to change and accept the love from those around him."
Library Journal, starred review

"Viscerally moving . . . A remarkable story of fortitude and personal transformation."
Kirkus Reviews

"A staggering tale of survival . . . Leon’s story of resilience pulsates with verve and breathtaking grace. The result is a gripping portrait of perseverance that radiates with humanity."
Publishers Weekly

2024 Middle and High School Collections

The Penguin Random House Education Middle School and High School Digital Collections feature outstanding fiction and nonfiction from the children’s, adult, DK, and Grupo Editorial divisions, as well as publishers distributed by Penguin Random House. Peruse online or download these valuable resources to discover great books in specific topic areas such as: English Language Arts,

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PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

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PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

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PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

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