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Break Any Woman Down

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In this hip, vital, and sexy debut, winner of the 2001 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, Dana Johnson launches a fleet of wonderful stories across unexpected terrain, upending notions of race, class and gender in utterly original ways.

An eleven-year-old black girl from South Central LA discovers the strangeness of moving to the suburbs and falling in love with a
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 12th 2003 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2001)
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4.11  · 
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 ·  231 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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Break Any Woman Down by Dana Johnson is a modern classic. Winner of the 2001 Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction, these stories are authentic and honest. Sometimes honest in the most painful of ways, but all the better for it. Johnson easily captures the voices of black women of all ages--from the earliest days of elementary school to the older woman sitting on her porch and reminiscing about her child- and young adulthood. These stories are raw and emotional and will strike a chord with a ...more
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
in love w/every single one of these stories. dana is My Girl.
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazingly powerful collection of stories. The characters are all so real and so personal.
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
These stories make you laugh, cry, talk back to them. Seriously good.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish I could do voice as well as Dana Johnson. Every one of her first-person narrators sounds totally different from the others. Like, how???
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
The common theme throughout this book is what it’s like to be a black woman. In almost every story, the main character is a young black woman and you see the world through her eyes. Through her stories, Johnson is trying to show the humanity of black women and their everyday struggles in a predominantly white world. In “Melvin in the Sixth Grade”, you meet eleven year old Avery, she is in middle school and though she may not realize it fully, the other children are nasty to her. She is constantl ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I found this book after reading another Flannery O'Connor winner, "The Theory of Light and Matter" by Andrew Porter. I expected the stories to be female-centric based on the title, but I didn't expect them to focus on relationships so much. The stories, which have very nuanced characters, are like little windows into some thorny current/past relationship. They each have their own tone–youthful reminiscence, carefree, regretful–but still manage to strike a realistic balance of positive/negative e ...more
Emily Yelencich
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Love the authentic glimpses into the lives of women. My favorite story in the collection was Three Ladies Sipping Tea in a Persian Garden. Such a beautiful capture of what female friendship can be. Made me miss my girlfriends who are family. Very strong collection overall from an author who I hadn’t discovered before! Looking forward to reading her other work.
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is a collection of short stories told through first person narrative. The stories takes you through the everyday struggles of life, diversity in relationships; as well as how we as black women can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really liked these stories, they are sticking in my mind
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were so rich and endearing. It targeted all those major themes in life. Beautifully written.
Thomas Stark
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Stories of life as it is lived. I grew to enjoy this book more as I continued to read it. Ms Johnson is a young voice even an old man can enjoy.
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this around the time it first came out, and it holds up well--a modern classic of the short story form. Dana Johnson's power over voice and perspective is awe-inspiring.
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-library
One of the best short story collections I’ve read. All of the stories were so beautifully connected to the theme of the book (“Break Any Woman Down”).
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
The characters in the nine stories that make up Dana Johnson's Flannery O'Connor award winning debut collection, Break Any Woman Down, are primarily struggling with their place in the world and how their class and race inform their cultural identity. Many of the characters struggle with and against their families, while others fight against their environment. However, it's not fair to reduce these wonderful stories to simple themes. They are about this issues, but they are so much more than that ...more
Jul 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Emily by: bookshelf at work
This was another book I picked up off of the borrow shelf at work (and another 3.5 rating). It had a sticker on the front noting that it won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. I like short stories and had recently read a few from my high school sister's "collection of short stories" she had for English class. They are nice to read at night because you can feel like you accomplished something. ANYWAY, back to the collection. This is a collection of short stories with distinct voice. A ...more
Sian Jones
The title story, "Break Any Woman Down", is really one of the best short stories I've ever read. The voice of it is amazing, genuine and sharp, and I love how subtextual the conflict is, so inexorable, and the ending is both a real ending and well-earned. Just amazing stuff. There are a couple of other good stories in the collection -- "Melvin in the Sixth Grade" and "Mouthful of Sorrow" -- but unfortunately even these suffer from the underdevelopment that characterizes the rest. Most of the sto ...more
Christine Palau
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Perfect antidote for Avery withdrawal. I suggest reading the beautiful/funny/sad novel Elsewhere, California (my review coming soon) first to fully appreciate the rich voice, psychology of identity, and overall awesomeness which is Dana Johnson as a story teller.

My favorite stories in this collection are Melvin in the Sixth Grade, Break Any Woman Down, Clay's Thinking, and Markers--really love that one! They're all so different, but equally affecting. Makes me want to re-read Elsewhere, CA.
Nov 10, 2009 rated it liked it
I was bored. I feel a bitbad for saying that, but it's true. There was only story that sticks with me from the whole collection of stories. A Mouth Full of Sorrow. That was an excellent story. the rest of them however, I just didn't connect to. I was really disappointed, I looked forward to reading this one. oh well...
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Johnson succeeds where so many other short-story writers fail: She writes eight first-person narrators, each with a distinct voice. These stories -- told from the point of view of black women both young and old -- capture the thoughts and feelings of people simply trying to get by. It's not desperation that drives them forward, but the desire to find out who they really are.
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Compelling and really painful short stories. Like, a woman driving her mom to get food stamps and the whole time she is kind of pissed at having to do it even though she knows she's being an asshole, and snapping at her mom for not correctly knowing the way to get there, and you are just hurting for the mom. But it's such a real dynamic and not one you see in fiction a lot. Really good.
Alicia Beale
May 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
She won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. She deserved it. A diverse collection of stories centered around Los Angeles and its suburbs with a vast array of characters. Dana switches races, class, and background with ease.
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the most honest books I've read. It's much more cohesive than a typical collection of short stories. There is a definite undercurrent about the joys and pains of any woman's life.
Mar 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book made me cry.
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my go-to story collections for reading and for teaching -- love the humor, the dialogue, and the eye for detail!
Jul 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Exciting new short story writer. Each story takes on a new character so fully, you would never guess that the same person created each one.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book and found it a bit of a disappointment.
Sep 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic character analysis, thoughtful and surprising. Thoroughly enjoyed.
Only read a few stories not the whole book of shorts.
Austin Hubert
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant collection that is inspiring to both readers and writers alike!
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