This powerful YA memoir-manifesto follows journalist and LGBTQ+ activist George M. Johnson as they explore their childhood, adolescence, and college years, growing up under the duality of being black and queer. From memories of getting their teeth kicked out by bullies at age five to their loving relationship with their grandmother, to their first sexual experience, the stories wrestle with triumph and tragedy and cover topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, inequality, consent, and Black joy.
First of all, let me start by saying I’m not black, Queer or American. So quite a lot of the things that were discussed in All Boys Aren’t Blue were unreliable to me. However, that did not make me love it any less. It just means that I’m not the best at deciding if the things talked about are ‘ok’ culturally . I’ve seen critics of this book that say that disagree with the way Johnson talks about things and how they are problematic. I didn’t pick up on any of that, but like I say, I’m a white British female, so I may not understand where these critics are coming from.
Reading this book though, I thought it was amazing to hear about Johnson’s story. To hear how they made their way through difficult situations in their life and how they shaped them. I loved their family for the most part and that was the bit that spoke to me the most. As a mother, and as a person, I try to be completely non-judgemental about everything. I love those I love without question and I always will. I loved hearing how Johnson’s family reacted to certain situations and how that made them feel because I would react similarly to their mum. And that helped me realise even more that it’s the right way to respond.
Some areas talked about were hard to read. Especially when Johnson talked about their early sexual encounters. However its so important that this kind of thing is talked about, especially from the LGBTQIAP+ perspective, because they aren’t covered anywhere else. The abuse Johnson faces is hard to read but important because it will help others reading who have encountered similar situations. The consent side was interesting to read because gay sex is not something I have really read about. I am a similar age as the author and my sex education growing up was very much the same as them – sex is a thing that you do to create babies. It’s not something pleasurable. That side we don’t hear about as much, only though fiction. And usually thats cis sex thats discussed, I don’t think I’ve read about gay relationships involving full intercourse before. This author goes into great detail about bad and good sexual encounters and I loved that they have given both sides of things to their readers, especially gay or queer readers who will only just be starting to explore sex.
The book kept me reading a lot. I didn’t want to put it down. Its like a series of mini essays about the authors life exploring their family, friends and school situations. They go as far as university and how that shaped them, especially joining a fraternity. I am not going to lie, that part of the book really didn’t work for me because I don’t understand it. I haven’t read about or been around the whole fraternity and sorority thing. So I didn’t get the references and I didn’t understand a lot of what was being discussed with hazing. But the friendships that Johnson made and the relationships they had with their brothers I did get. Also, the sense of belonging they got from it was so strong, you could feel it shining out of the book.
There were other bits of the book I wasn’t keep on. There are a lot of mentions to ‘more about that later’ but I feel the later never came. Or if it did, I missed it. There were areas that I didn’t feel were explained very well, things to do with George M Johnsons’ family dynamic especially. I guess that might be to do with the fact so many of them are still alive to read the book. There was also the story of Hope, George’s cousin. There were parts of this story that jarred with me but the main part was her death. I am assuming that the illness that killed Hope was HIV/AIDs. It’s not clear though. The author says that some of their family claimed it was dodgy breast implants or the back alley doctors that Hope say that killed her. But the line at the end of the paragraph reads “Deep down, I think we all knew what it was. An epidemic that still harms our people every day.” Which is what I read as AIDs. Its possible that the family didn’t know if it was AIDs or not. But at this point in time the author was in Richmond Virgina – where they went to uni. Which means they were at least 17 and judging by the timeline this meant it was the late 90s or early 2000s. I’m pretty certain by that point the drs were clearer about AIDs and there was HIV testing etc. This is something that is such an important thing in the LGBTQAIP+ community and I thought it was so glossed over in this book.
There were parts of the book that I absolutely loved and others that didn’t sit right, but overall I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to open their eyes to more experiences people go through.
All Boys aren’t Blue will be published on 4th March 2021 by Penguin Random House. My copy was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.