Book review: Broke, Sam Drummond

A memoir about the intersection between disability and financial precarity advocates for compassion.

The title of Sam Drummond’s memoir, Broke, has multiple meanings. Drummond, born with pseudoachondroplasia, a condition that results in short stature, had his legs purposely broken and reset by doctors to ensure that they would grow straighter and that he could continue to walk. Drummond also grew up “broke”, largely parented by a single mother, hyperaware of the impact of any household expense, and aware of the gap in resources between his circumstances and those of his peers.

It is also our social systems that Drummond diagnoses as broken. The fact that a relationship shift, an unexpected expense or an ableist attitude can be life altering in Drummond’s experience, points to the ways that marginalisation gets reinforced, over and over.

Drummond’s focus in this memoir is on evoking the mindset and feelings he had over his childhood, up until his days as a law student at university. His ability to anchor his chapters with the precise details of the moment makes the book lively. Gestures of love, especially from Drummond’s mother and brother, and moments of light and humour, offer narrative reprieve. Although Broke has confronting scenes, the sharp details of life as Drummond lived it, the book offers light and shade to make for engaging reading.

The insights in the later chapters of the book are subtle but important social commentary. Organically, as a result of his own narrative arc, Drummond challenges common beliefs about the nature of disability and social mobility. Noting, for example, that home ownership and education are offered as ways out of the cycle of poverty, Drummond shows how this logic didn’t work out for him or his mother. His mother is prevented from escaping a bad relationship because her assets were tied up in their shared house and she’d have nowhere to live. And likewise, despite enrolling in a law degree, Drummond himself continued to live precariously: studying, scrimping and job hunting.

Read: The butt of the joke

‘I had always been told that hard work and pure intentions would be rewarded,’ Drummond reflects. ‘Mum’s rewards were a troubled mind and a broken body.’ Broke is no polemic, but in articulating the story of the intersection of financial stress and disability, it advocates beautifully for more compassionate individual attitudes and social structures to enable more stability and brightness in the lives of marginalised people.

Broke, Sam Drummond
Publisher: Affirm Press
ISBN: 9781922848475
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288 pp
Release Date: 27 June 2023
RRP: $34.99

Erin Stewart is a Canberra-based freelance writer and researcher.