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This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown

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A Black mother bumps up against the limits of everything she thought she believed—about science and medicine, about motherhood, and about her faith—in search of the truth about her son.  One morning, Tophs, Taylor Harris’s round-cheeked, lively twenty-two-month-old, wakes up listless and unresponsive. She rushes Tophs to the doctor, ignoring the part of herself, trained by A Black mother bumps up against the limits of everything she thought she believed—about science and medicine, about motherhood, and about her faith—in search of the truth about her son.  One morning, Tophs, Taylor Harris’s round-cheeked, lively twenty-two-month-old, wakes up listless and unresponsive. She rushes Tophs to the doctor, ignoring the part of herself, trained by years of therapy for generalized anxiety disorder, that tries to whisper that she’s overreacting. But at the hospital, her maternal instincts are confirmed: something is wrong with her boy, and Taylor’s life will never be the same.  With every question the doctors answer about Tophs’s increasingly troubling symptoms, more arise, and Taylor dives into the search for a diagnosis. She spends countless hours trying to navigate health and education systems that can be hostile to Black mothers and children; at night she googles, prays, and interrogates her every action. Some days, her sweet, charismatic boy seems just fine—others, he struggles to answer simple questions. What is she missing? When Taylor brings Tophs to a long-awaited appointment with a geneticist, she hopes that this time, she’ll leave with answers. The test reveals nothing about what’s causing Tophs’s drops in blood sugar, his processing delays—but it does reveal something unexpected about Taylor’s own health. What if her son’s challenges have saved her life? And how can she choose the best path forward—for herself and for her beautiful, unsolvable boy?  This Boy We Made is a stirring and radiantly written examination of the bond between mother and child, full of hard-won ins


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A Black mother bumps up against the limits of everything she thought she believed—about science and medicine, about motherhood, and about her faith—in search of the truth about her son.  One morning, Tophs, Taylor Harris’s round-cheeked, lively twenty-two-month-old, wakes up listless and unresponsive. She rushes Tophs to the doctor, ignoring the part of herself, trained by A Black mother bumps up against the limits of everything she thought she believed—about science and medicine, about motherhood, and about her faith—in search of the truth about her son.  One morning, Tophs, Taylor Harris’s round-cheeked, lively twenty-two-month-old, wakes up listless and unresponsive. She rushes Tophs to the doctor, ignoring the part of herself, trained by years of therapy for generalized anxiety disorder, that tries to whisper that she’s overreacting. But at the hospital, her maternal instincts are confirmed: something is wrong with her boy, and Taylor’s life will never be the same.  With every question the doctors answer about Tophs’s increasingly troubling symptoms, more arise, and Taylor dives into the search for a diagnosis. She spends countless hours trying to navigate health and education systems that can be hostile to Black mothers and children; at night she googles, prays, and interrogates her every action. Some days, her sweet, charismatic boy seems just fine—others, he struggles to answer simple questions. What is she missing? When Taylor brings Tophs to a long-awaited appointment with a geneticist, she hopes that this time, she’ll leave with answers. The test reveals nothing about what’s causing Tophs’s drops in blood sugar, his processing delays—but it does reveal something unexpected about Taylor’s own health. What if her son’s challenges have saved her life? And how can she choose the best path forward—for herself and for her beautiful, unsolvable boy?  This Boy We Made is a stirring and radiantly written examination of the bond between mother and child, full of hard-won ins

30 review for This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amerie

    The Amerie's Book Club selection for January 2022 is THIS BOY WE MADE by Taylor Harris! Stay connected via @AmeriesBookClub on IG, and join me and Taylor Harris @WritingForIceCreamDuh on my IGLIVE (@Amerie) at the end of January. Bring your questions! Taylor Harris' memoir explores motherhood, the intersections of healthcare and Black parenthood in particular, and the anxiety-ridden process of questioning the burdens we may inadvertently place upon our children, whether through nurture or nature. The Amerie's Book Club selection for January 2022 is THIS BOY WE MADE by Taylor Harris! Stay connected via @AmeriesBookClub on IG, and join me and Taylor Harris @WritingForIceCreamDuh on my IGLIVE (@Amerie) at the end of January. Bring your questions! Taylor Harris' memoir explores motherhood, the intersections of healthcare and Black parenthood in particular, and the anxiety-ridden process of questioning the burdens we may inadvertently place upon our children, whether through nurture or nature. With strength, vulnerablity, and no small dose of candor, Harris takes us through her faith-filled journey, which felt both familiar and new as I held my breath during every potential reveal, praying and hoping for little Tophs and the people I came to know through this heartfelt portrait of a family. 📚 #AmeriesBookClub #ReadWithAmerie #ThisBoyWeMade @Catapult @WritingForIceCreamDuh #TaylorHarris ABOUT TAYLOR HARRIS Taylor Harris is a writer, wife, and mom of three who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her work has appeared in TIME, O Quarterly, The Washington Post, Longreads, The Cut, Romper, Parents, McSweeney’s, and other publications.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marika

    Author Taylor Harris writes about her son Toph and his medical symptoms that she intuitively *knows* are not right. She knows that something is not right, but she also knows that as a black woman that she must check herself in her interactions with medical professionals. For example, a Caucasian mother has the freedom to interact with Drs/Nurses without judgment, while she as a black mother has to be careful not be viewed as aggressive and demanding. How can Harris demand the best medical care f Author Taylor Harris writes about her son Toph and his medical symptoms that she intuitively *knows* are not right. She knows that something is not right, but she also knows that as a black woman that she must check herself in her interactions with medical professionals. For example, a Caucasian mother has the freedom to interact with Drs/Nurses without judgment, while she as a black mother has to be careful not be viewed as aggressive and demanding. How can Harris demand the best medical care for her son all the while knowing that she has to walk that tightrope of internal restraint? A wonderful memoir. * I read an advance copy and was not compensated.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One morning, Taylor Harris and her husband (an African American family based in Charlottesville, Virginia) found their 22-month-old son Christopher, nicknamed “Tophs,” awake but unresponsive in his crib. In the years that followed, she and his doctors looked for answers as to why his body couldn’t regulate his blood sugar levels, sometimes leading to seizures, and to why his speech and mental processing remained delayed. All their tests and theories have never amounted to a conclusive diagnosis. One morning, Taylor Harris and her husband (an African American family based in Charlottesville, Virginia) found their 22-month-old son Christopher, nicknamed “Tophs,” awake but unresponsive in his crib. In the years that followed, she and his doctors looked for answers as to why his body couldn’t regulate his blood sugar levels, sometimes leading to seizures, and to why his speech and mental processing remained delayed. All their tests and theories have never amounted to a conclusive diagnosis. This was a book that repeatedly surprised me. I’d assumed it would be exclusively about the medical mystery of Tophs’s physical and intellectual disability. But Harris elegantly weaves in a lot of other themes, too: mental illness, her own physical concerns (a BRCA2 mutation), racism, faith, and advocating for her children’s health and education. See my full review at BookBrowse. (See also my related article on BRCA gene mutations and prophylactic mastectomy surgery.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I picked this up last night to read a few pages before turning off the light. I couldn't put it down. I read every word of the acknowledgments (which I NEVER do) because I didn't want to miss anything she had to say. Harris writes with such honesty about topics that we all share. Her section about the intersectionality of raising a black boy and a boy with processing issues is so powerful. I just loved this book. I picked this up last night to read a few pages before turning off the light. I couldn't put it down. I read every word of the acknowledgments (which I NEVER do) because I didn't want to miss anything she had to say. Harris writes with such honesty about topics that we all share. Her section about the intersectionality of raising a black boy and a boy with processing issues is so powerful. I just loved this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This is such an unusual book and should appeal to a variety of readers. First of all, she is a Black mother talking about Black lives. Secondly, she is a devote Christian (balanced with a realistic and humorous character). And most importantly she is the mother of a child who is unique--unique because there is no label for what he has and who he is from a medical point of view, though it is obvious to the medical world that he does have a kaleidoscope of medical issues going on. Harris presents t This is such an unusual book and should appeal to a variety of readers. First of all, she is a Black mother talking about Black lives. Secondly, she is a devote Christian (balanced with a realistic and humorous character). And most importantly she is the mother of a child who is unique--unique because there is no label for what he has and who he is from a medical point of view, though it is obvious to the medical world that he does have a kaleidoscope of medical issues going on. Harris presents the life of her family and her son in a loving and descriptive way. Tophs is no less than any of her other children. He's amazing, actually. She also freely admits to her own privilege and that of her family's privilege due to their education and economic circumstances. I hope this will be widely read by anyone with a child that defies description. And in a sense, don't we all have children like that? It's an easy read and you'll want to keep going until the end. It would be an excellent choice for a book club since there is so much to unpack here. And I'm a fan and rooting for this family!!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Snem

    There really is a whole universe of things we don’t know about the human body. Not exactly comforting! I want doctors to know everything and fix it. Fascinating how Toph’s testing led to revelations for others. Also fascinating the role race plays in every interaction they had with doctors, school administrators and the level of care poc are getting. I don’t vibe with the Christianity stuff, it’s just not my bag. I found the writing a little scattered. I also wanted a little more about her gener There really is a whole universe of things we don’t know about the human body. Not exactly comforting! I want doctors to know everything and fix it. Fascinating how Toph’s testing led to revelations for others. Also fascinating the role race plays in every interaction they had with doctors, school administrators and the level of care poc are getting. I don’t vibe with the Christianity stuff, it’s just not my bag. I found the writing a little scattered. I also wanted a little more about her generalized anxiety disorder and how that impacted her coping with all these challenges. This was a pretty interesting book, it made me think quite a bit.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cook Memorial Public Library

    Read about Jean's Pick of the Week on our blog, Shelf Life: https://shelflife.cooklib.org/2022/04... Check our catalog: https://encore.cooklib.org/iii/encore... Read about Jean's Pick of the Week on our blog, Shelf Life: https://shelflife.cooklib.org/2022/04... Check our catalog: https://encore.cooklib.org/iii/encore...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Desi

    Well, that was quite a book. I had been looking forward to reading this since I heard it was coming out, partly because I have read several of Harris’ essays and I knew she was a good writer with a compelling story to tell, and partly because her story inhabits the literal world of Charlottesville I live in. I’m pretty sure I saw her in Target once, years ago. This was a lovely, often heart-wrenching memoir that I identified with in many ways, as a mother with my own medical and emotional issues Well, that was quite a book. I had been looking forward to reading this since I heard it was coming out, partly because I have read several of Harris’ essays and I knew she was a good writer with a compelling story to tell, and partly because her story inhabits the literal world of Charlottesville I live in. I’m pretty sure I saw her in Target once, years ago. This was a lovely, often heart-wrenching memoir that I identified with in many ways, as a mother with my own medical and emotional issues. But I am not raising a son with anything particularly complex in his life, nor am I Black, and Harris illuminates the intersection of these experiences deftly, with tenderness, anger, humor, and wisdom. I’m very glad to have read this. As an aside, it is strange to read a book about your own still smallish community and encounter people in the story whom you know of or have met before.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    There are problems with diagnosis for numerous metabolic or brain function diseases or abnormalities. Few people realize how many and varied. I carry one and do I know it. Many have no names. Others do have names. But nevertheless are determined only after a whole lot of other tracks to "ruling out". This is a memoir of a mother and the answers to her son's conditions. Varied at times. Also her own tale of long term anxiety and depression core the entire. And other racial and religious testimonie There are problems with diagnosis for numerous metabolic or brain function diseases or abnormalities. Few people realize how many and varied. I carry one and do I know it. Many have no names. Others do have names. But nevertheless are determined only after a whole lot of other tracks to "ruling out". This is a memoir of a mother and the answers to her son's conditions. Varied at times. Also her own tale of long term anxiety and depression core the entire. And other racial and religious testimonies are entwined. This was interesting to me as endrocine system genetic difficulty situations are rife through a branch of my maternal line. My first cousin's child has a boy with a very similar low blood sugar roller coaster. Almost contrary to Type 1 diabetes. It's written in scattered continuity. But definitely worth the effort despite the poor prose flow. And despite her continually using the racism card as if no one ever gets their urine test lost or has doctor issues because of their particular rarer genetic markers or ethnic identity. I sure wish the use of antidepressants during pregnancy was covered in a much deeper manner here too.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Gross

    I feel lucky to have crossed paths with the Harris family in Charlottesville, Paul’s lectures and Taylor’s words have made such an impact on me. Highly rec this memoir!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharde'

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Good memoir. The author tells story of her son who has a medical condition that is undiagnosable. Then in turn she learns of an unexpected genetic condition about herself. Focus is on motherhood, navigating medical and educational systems as a Black family with a child with a disability. At the end of the book, the pandemic’s impact is mentioned as well as her husband being denied tenure at UVA which made national news, so I’m sure this memoir could’ve went on even longer, if those stories were Good memoir. The author tells story of her son who has a medical condition that is undiagnosable. Then in turn she learns of an unexpected genetic condition about herself. Focus is on motherhood, navigating medical and educational systems as a Black family with a child with a disability. At the end of the book, the pandemic’s impact is mentioned as well as her husband being denied tenure at UVA which made national news, so I’m sure this memoir could’ve went on even longer, if those stories were told.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Tore through this in a day. I have so much to ask and say and think about.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Homeschoolmama

    Beautifully written memoir. I learned a lot from Harris. Highly recommend!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Who is this child? Who is this child? I think this is a question all parents can relate to as we've all uttered it. Harris unfortunately must answer this question thru mysterious medical incidents that get to the health of not only her son, Tophs, but ultimately herself. I absolutely drove head first into this book and was drawn into the story and the writing. The back and forth between Toph's mystery illness and Harris's own anxiety was well done. However a little more than halfway thru the book Who is this child? Who is this child? I think this is a question all parents can relate to as we've all uttered it. Harris unfortunately must answer this question thru mysterious medical incidents that get to the health of not only her son, Tophs, but ultimately herself. I absolutely drove head first into this book and was drawn into the story and the writing. The back and forth between Toph's mystery illness and Harris's own anxiety was well done. However a little more than halfway thru the book the layout changed and became harder to follow for a bit but the book finished strong. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone because I think the minor issues I had were more of an editor issue than a storyline issue.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kellen

    I've read a few of Harris' essays and blogs over the years so I knew I'd like her book, but I never imaged how much. A beautiful narrative of so many different important topics set against the backdrop of Charlottesville, a character in and of itself. Although, you certainly don't need to live in Charlottesville to connect with this book. Harris leads you gracefully into the wilderness and sits with you there, both in her own story and in your own life. This book is a must read for everyone but I've read a few of Harris' essays and blogs over the years so I knew I'd like her book, but I never imaged how much. A beautiful narrative of so many different important topics set against the backdrop of Charlottesville, a character in and of itself. Although, you certainly don't need to live in Charlottesville to connect with this book. Harris leads you gracefully into the wilderness and sits with you there, both in her own story and in your own life. This book is a must read for everyone but especially for anyone identifying as: mother, Christian, educator, health care employee, and/or white.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kelli Trusedell

    This memoir was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m so glad she brought it to my attention. I instantly felt connected to Taylor Harris through many of our similarities: Close in age, from the Midwest, suffer from anxiety, love coffee and Krispie Kreme donuts, like to quietly ponder thoughts and feelings before sharing, stay-at-home moms who constantly worry about our children, full of self-doubt, hope, and determination. She made me giggle at times, and tear up at others. I really enjoyed he This memoir was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m so glad she brought it to my attention. I instantly felt connected to Taylor Harris through many of our similarities: Close in age, from the Midwest, suffer from anxiety, love coffee and Krispie Kreme donuts, like to quietly ponder thoughts and feelings before sharing, stay-at-home moms who constantly worry about our children, full of self-doubt, hope, and determination. She made me giggle at times, and tear up at others. I really enjoyed her writing, and I couldn’t stop reading, wanting to know more about her family’s story, medical mysteries, racial discrimination, and faith. Just overall a great memoir and read. I’ll end my review with her son Tophs’s psalm, which is absolutely perfect: “A lot of things have happened to me and I am perfectly made.” 💗💗💗

  17. 4 out of 5

    Renee Branson

    This book is a sermon on what it means to mother in the midst of crisis. Taylor is able to depict that often-overlooked truth that to be attuned to our children and their needs, we must also be willing to be attuned to ourselves. What do we carry with us into our mothering and what must we be willing to set down? She embodies what it is to be a fierce advocate for her child...which is hard enough on a level playing field, but unrelenting in a medical and educational system built for whiteness. A This book is a sermon on what it means to mother in the midst of crisis. Taylor is able to depict that often-overlooked truth that to be attuned to our children and their needs, we must also be willing to be attuned to ourselves. What do we carry with us into our mothering and what must we be willing to set down? She embodies what it is to be a fierce advocate for her child...which is hard enough on a level playing field, but unrelenting in a medical and educational system built for whiteness. Also, she talks a lot about ice cream and I'm always down for a scoop. Read this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    Trite. Disorganized. Way too Christiany.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    A beautifully written memoir - funny, touching, sad, honest, heartbreaking, and gripping. I wished it wasn’t over and could read Taylor’s writing all day! She is truly a gifted writer who shares her story so memorably. A wonderful read!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jodie Siu

    Loved this beautifully written, deeply moving memoir of parenting a child with extra needs. The author's self-reflection and ability to articulate her inner world is amazing. Her description of a panic attack was the most immersive and illuminating I've ever read. Threaded throughout was the extra layer of racism faced by their family in navigating medical and educational systems that are already confusing and maddening. I randomly chose this book from the library shelf - not my usual practice o Loved this beautifully written, deeply moving memoir of parenting a child with extra needs. The author's self-reflection and ability to articulate her inner world is amazing. Her description of a panic attack was the most immersive and illuminating I've ever read. Threaded throughout was the extra layer of racism faced by their family in navigating medical and educational systems that are already confusing and maddening. I randomly chose this book from the library shelf - not my usual practice of reading a review and putting it on hold - and am so grateful to have grabbed it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Anderson

    Shortly before his second birthday Tophs, the author's second child, has to be rushed to the emergency room. So begins a long journey into the unknown. Developmental delays and a strange sense of disconnection start to appear. The author's own self-doubt must be navigated, in addition to genetic tests, scans, medications, and educational support for Tophs, all the while caring for her older child and husband. Genetic testing also reveals that Harris herself carries the BRCA2 mutation, which will Shortly before his second birthday Tophs, the author's second child, has to be rushed to the emergency room. So begins a long journey into the unknown. Developmental delays and a strange sense of disconnection start to appear. The author's own self-doubt must be navigated, in addition to genetic tests, scans, medications, and educational support for Tophs, all the while caring for her older child and husband. Genetic testing also reveals that Harris herself carries the BRCA2 mutation, which will ultimately result in a double mastectomy. This is a very honest and sensitive account of circumventing unknown waters, of deep love and faith, and of dealing with a medical and educational system that sees labels Black boys problems rather than precious gifts. It is also an account of how one woman deals with her own mental health issues around anxiety and depression. This is a story of a strong family that will appeal to readers of both medical memoirs and memoirs of motherhood, and to Christian readers.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Put this on your TBRs for January 2022. A beautifully written and executed memoir about motherhood (especially Black motherhood), anxiety, family, faith, and parenting a child with a perplexing medical and neurodivergent condition (just a heads-up that there are no clear answers in Tophs's case, no "label" yet that can guide his medical or therapeutic team, so this isn't that kind of book). Put this on your TBRs for January 2022. A beautifully written and executed memoir about motherhood (especially Black motherhood), anxiety, family, faith, and parenting a child with a perplexing medical and neurodivergent condition (just a heads-up that there are no clear answers in Tophs's case, no "label" yet that can guide his medical or therapeutic team, so this isn't that kind of book).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Amazing story! Powerful, painful and hopeful. Beautifully written with raw honesty that examines racism, the medical world, faith and family. I am honored to say that the author was a student of mine when she was in elementary school. I knew then she was a gifted writer and am not at all surprised at her success. Don't miss this memoir - it will grab your heart on page one and never let go! Amazing story! Powerful, painful and hopeful. Beautifully written with raw honesty that examines racism, the medical world, faith and family. I am honored to say that the author was a student of mine when she was in elementary school. I knew then she was a gifted writer and am not at all surprised at her success. Don't miss this memoir - it will grab your heart on page one and never let go!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    This book is exquisite, warm, funny, heart-wrenching and unforgettable. I literally couldn’t put it down. Brava to Harris for creating such a masterpiece!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chicasmama

    2.5 ⭐️’s- this was just ok for me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amy Carter

    This felt more like a meditation on motherhood than a memoir (in that it was more about the introspection and examination than about what exactly happened in their lives, though there was a fair amount of that too), but it was still lovely! I really appreciated her perspective on motherhood, and especially about dealing with an undiagnosed set of issues. She also wrote a lot about navigating the medical system as a person of color, which was particularly eye-opening to me. It was beautifully wri This felt more like a meditation on motherhood than a memoir (in that it was more about the introspection and examination than about what exactly happened in their lives, though there was a fair amount of that too), but it was still lovely! I really appreciated her perspective on motherhood, and especially about dealing with an undiagnosed set of issues. She also wrote a lot about navigating the medical system as a person of color, which was particularly eye-opening to me. It was beautifully written, and I’m especially impressed by how she integrated her faith into her writing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    mel

    3.5 rounded up. this memoir was a mother’s struggle and reckoning with a life that is unknowable and out of our control. while at times i found the book hard to follow bc of her style of figurative language/flowery prose and the way she tends to jump from thought to thought rather unevenly, the book worked best for me when she mused on intersectional experiences like being Black and disabled, being Black and a mother and Christian, etc. Harris has a beautiful voice throughout, and the conclusion 3.5 rounded up. this memoir was a mother’s struggle and reckoning with a life that is unknowable and out of our control. while at times i found the book hard to follow bc of her style of figurative language/flowery prose and the way she tends to jump from thought to thought rather unevenly, the book worked best for me when she mused on intersectional experiences like being Black and disabled, being Black and a mother and Christian, etc. Harris has a beautiful voice throughout, and the conclusions she comes to give quiet encouragement and hope.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Symone New

    Gorgeous read! Take the time to read this beautiful book. It tackled the experience of parenting while Black, navigating medical and educational racism and bias, and explores notions of family, love, faith, community, difference, health, and resilience in a warm, honest, approachable way. It is unlike anything I have ever read and it will long stay with me, informing my perspective on health equity, mental health within the Black community, and advocacy for family and self. Truly a special read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lexy

    This book sucked me in from the start. I felt the tension and worry and I liked the author’s voice. I do feel like it meandered a bit — there was so much on motherhood and faith that sometimes felt incongruous. I did really appreciate her support perspective on navigating healthcare and education systems as a Black family.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Marian Lynee

    10/10 would recommend. I started this book months ago but, unlike the breakneck pace that I’m used to devouring books with, I slowly read this book to savor and absorb every word. Taylor weaves a memoir filled with authentic wrestling that anyone can connect with, she brings to light so many poignant thoughts about faith and systems, questioning and believing. This book made me homesick for Charlottesville and also for the community that the Harris family naturally creates. Loved it!

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