Book #17

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Johnson has written this YA memoir solely to help others just like him. Drawing on his experiences growing up as a gay Black boy, he recounts his worries and hopes, and recalls how he didn’t have any books or media to guide him as he grew up. This is something I truly believe is important - everyone should be able to find someone to relate to in life - and I commend him for sharing his obstacles, some of which I imagine would have been very painful to remember, never mind committing to paper.

There was a lot to learn here as a white woman, so reading this isn’t only beneficial for those either Black or queer. I found some deeper insight into how society is so ingrained in unconscious (or indeed conscious) racism and homophobia, some of the origins of this, and how I can continue to learn and make efforts to improve myself and the language I use.

In addition, Johnson ensures he reinforces just how accepting and affirming his family were of his ‘differences’, and how this impacted his life. He does this so forcefully as he’s aware of the general misconception that the Black community wouldn’t be as accepting as others, and he entirely quashes this myth with his heartwarming stories of family life.

I would have loved for this to have felt a bit deeper. Johnson tells us stories as though we were old friends, and this feels cosy for a little while, until I started to feel I’d prefer to be shown these things happening, rather than being told. Sometimes I felt he was only touching the surface of the story, and I would’ve liked some more depth to what I was hearing. I also felt some more editing could have helped - the chapters aren’t chronological, so I felt confused at times on where I was with Johnson in his life. It felt jarring and dizzying; a bit more of a focus on the structure could have helped this massively.

An important and powerful book, and although it’s intended to help those who are young, queer, Black, or a combination of those, it’s also helpful for those outside of those communities to learn more about the types of experiences these people have, and how we can help, even if it’s in the smallest of ways.