44 pages 1 hour read

Sarah M. Broom

The Yellow House

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


The Yellow House is a nonfiction memoir published in 2019 by the American author Sarah M. Broom. In a narrative centered around her childhood home, “The Yellow House,” Broom chronicles the history of New Orleans through three generations of her family. The Yellow House won the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for best debut book.

Plot Summary

In 1961, Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, becomes a widow at the age of 19. She buys a shotgun house—a narrow rectangular domicile—in the newly developed neighborhood of New Orleans East. The home is built on soft ground atop a cypress swamp. As a result, the house begins to sink almost immediately. In 1965, the house is damaged during Hurricane Betsy, a Category 4 storm that destroyed levees and caused extensive damage to New Orleans East. At the time, it was the costliest Atlantic hurricane on record. Nevertheless, Ivory Mae is determined to make the house a home. She marries Simon Broom, and over time, their family grows to 12 kids. Born in 1979, Sarah Broom is the youngest. When Sarah is young, the house is covered in yellow siding, earning it the nickname the Yellow House. Broom’s predominately African American neighborhood is cut off from the rest of the city by the Industrial Canal. When Broom is an infant, Simon dies before he able to finish the home improvements he starts after Hurricane Betsy. Ivory Mae does her best, but the house slowly declines.

In Movement 1, Broom outlines the history of her family before she was born. In Movement 2, Broom describes her childhood and coming of age. Aimless and lonely, she feels shame about the state of the house. Upon graduating high school, Sarah goes to the University of North Texas and the University of California-Berkeley where she graduates with a Master's Degree in Journalism. Movement 3 centers on Hurricane Katrina. Broom describes where all of her family members were during the hurricane and the trauma they experience. Broom is in Harlem at the time. The Yellow House is damaged and is deemed uninhabitable by the city. In Movement 4, Broom returns to New Orleans to write the book that will become The Yellow House, as she comes to terms with her family’s history.