All Boys Aren’t Blue, A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson. Published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020.
In the introduction, author George M. Johnson writes, “My struggles are that of Black men and queer men and people who exist at the intersection of both identities. That’s where the manifesto part comes in. I believe that the dominant society establishes an idea of what “normal” is simply to suppress differences, which means that any of us who fall outside of their “normal” will eventually be oppressed. In each chapter of this book, I’ll tell you memories of my experiences growing up and what I think they mean in a larger context of living as a Black queer person.”
This is a powerful memoir about being black and queer, and the intersection of those identities. While intended for teens, this narrative is also highly recommended for young adults and adults. If you enjoy listening to books, the audiobook is exceptionally well done, and is read by the author who is a gifted storyteller.
Johnson shares both glorious and gut-wrenching memories of growing up Black and queer in America. From getting bullied at age five, to mastering a true love of Double-Dutch jump-roping with girls during recess in fifth grade, while also needing to prove his masculinity to boys on the football field, so as not to be called derogatory names. We learn of first crushes, first kisses, and first sexual experiences. The narrative also includes many stories of a loving, caring, supportive family network which extends beyond his parents and brother, to include a crew of cousins (some queer) and a fierce loving matriarchal grandmother extraordinaire. While family members generally boost and support him, there is one important occasion when a family member fails him too. Johnson turns his growing up stories into accessible lessons, exploring intersectional identities to his own life by weaving in questions of gender, masculinity, brotherhood, family, and Black joy.
Author’s Note (The Author’s Note appears at the very beginning of the book before the introduction):
In writing this book, I wanted to be as authentic and truthful about my experience as possible. I wanted my story to be told in totality: the good, the bad, and the things I was always too afraid to talk about publicly. This means going to places and discussing some subjects that are often kept away from teens for fear of them being “too heavy.”
But the truth of the matter is, these things happened to me when I was a child, teenager, and young adult. So as heavy as these subjects may be, it is necessary that they are not only told, but also read by teens who may have to navigate many of these same experiences in their own lives.
This book will touch on sexual assault (including molestation), loss of virginity, homophobia, racism, and anti-Blackness. These discussions at times may be a bit graphic, but nonetheless they are experiences that many reading this book will encounter or have already encountered. And I want those readers to be seen and heard in these pages….
Please know that this book was crafted with care and love, but most importantly to give a voice to so many from marginalized communities whose experiences have not yet been captured between the pages of a book.
I hope this book will make you laugh at moments. I hope this book will make you cry at moments. I hope this book will open you up to understanding the people you may have never spoken to because of their differences from you. We are not as different as you think, and all our stories matter and deserve to be celebrated and told. With love, George M. Johnson
All Boys Aren’t Blue was named a 2020 Best Book of the Year by Amazon, the New York and Chicago public libraries and Kirkus Reviews, and in 2021 was the American Library Association YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Teen’s Top Ten winner, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books from the previous year.
This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans board member Barb Shumer, who is a retired public librarian.