All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto

by George M. Johnson

Hardcover, 2020



Call number



Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (2020), Edition: Illustrated, 320 pages


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.Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member LibrarianRyan
I enjoyed listening to this audiobook. I’m not sure I retained much, but I did learn some things. I had yet to be hearing LGBTQIA+ (it’s the IA that I had not heard much). I did find myself laughing at points, such as the Honeychild story. The way the author reads this books I can picture
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things clearly in my head and I loved that.
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LibraryThing member Booklover217
"Navigating in a space that questions your humanity isn't really living at all. It's existing. We all deserve more than just the ability to exist."

All Boys Aren't Blue is such an important read. George Johnson covers so many important topics through the telling of his story. He walks us through his
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family, his most important personal experiences, personal traumas and more importantly his resilience and perseverance to make his own way and forge his own identity. His voice is empowering and encouraging and I truly believe this book will save lives. He is honest and transparent in sharing his struggles with the intersectionalism of blackness and queerness. He challenges gender norms, traditional sex education, sexuality, blackness, queerness, family, unconditional love and forgiveness.

He refers to his work as a manifesto and with today's cultural and political climate I can see why. He is bold and intentional with his words yet offers hope at the same time. This is one book that needs to be required reading by every educator and parent to gain understanding of today's youth that may be feeling unwanted, unloved and discarded by society for simply trying to be who they are. I cried so many tears for George yet at the same time smiled and cheered every small victory and step he took in creating his own identity.

If you only read one YA book all year, I recommend this one. You will be completely transformed after being informed which is so important. Representation and visibility in literature not only validates but it can also instill purpose and provide hope to one who is fighting to just keep living. I know that many will feel seen after reading this beautifully written memoir. This bookdragon rates this one 🔥🔥🔥🔥.5 flames but no amount of words I have can justify how beautiful and necessary this book is.
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LibraryThing member rgruberexcel
RGG: So intensely honest. The combination of memoir and manifesto occasionally is jarring as Johnson switches from personal memory to the breaking down of the third wall to speak to the reader. The two very sexually explicit chapters, one of an incident of sexual abuse, (chapter 11 and chapter 15)
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are intended to be an honest sharing of experiences, informational rather than salacious, but it's difficult to know how readers will absorb the information. Care should be taken giving this book to 8th Graders, but Johnson believes this book is so needed by some audiences.
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LibraryThing member oldandnewbooksmell
Trigger Warnings: toxic masculinity, sexual assault, molestation, loss of virginity, homophobia, racism, and anti-Blackness

In a series of personal essays, journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist Geroge M. Johnson talks about his childhood and growing up in New Jersey and his college years in Virginia.
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This novel covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, and consent.

From the author: “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.”

Yet another book that is being challenged in the year 2022 (and this time my hometown is one of them!). So of course, I added it to my TBR as soon as I could.

This book is everything I hoped it would be as soon as I read the summary. It’s an exploration of gender, identity, and sexuality. George M. Johnson writes a few times that, “Whether this book is a bestseller or a flop, if one person is helped by my story, then it was all worth it”, and I feel like he’s done this for sure as I am sure there will be youth out there who will benefit from this story. I must applaud Johnson for sharing his journey. No matter how hard or tough the subject was, he did an amazing job in writing it in a way that youth and teens of the LGBTQIA+ community will be able to pick up and see themselves in and not feel so alone.

It’s kind of crazy to me that we still live in a society, that even when you have a family as LGBTQIA+ supportive as Johnson’s family is/was (even without their knowledge about the LGBTQIA+ community), that Johnson still had a hard time coming out.

“No amount of money, love, or support can protect you from a society intent on killing you for your blackness, and shows that a community that has been taught that anyone “not straight” is dangerous.”

This memoir is raw, honest, and a story I believe everyone should hear/read.
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LibraryThing member Carolee888
It is a memoir of a black queer man from his childhood up to today, I say queer because he prefers that to gay. He know he was different very early, just the toys that he liked to play with.

He tells his story honestly and I grew to feel a lot of affection for his grand mother, parents and siblings.
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His is a very loving family that accepts what is and goes on loving. He had to deal with his blackness and that became easier when his community encourged pride in being black. The other part is more difficult because he says the main stream orientation for black men is masculine heterosexual men. But he finds a solution to that.

I noticed that there are quite a few negative reviews that diminish his message of find out who you are and be yourself. He had a very loving family, he was fortunate, those withiut a supportive family would feel very alone and most likely desperate and might try to numb themselves with drugs or alcohol. I am sure that the negative reviews refer to his telling of his experience of childhold molestation. Of course reading it was hard and I felt angry that he was taken advantage of, he had not learned at that time to say no and how to say it! The author decries the lack of sex education in schools.

I believe that instead of banning this book, it would be preferred to plan a discussion of feelings before and after the chapter on molestation. The author decries the lack of sex education in the schools that he attended. One way of preventing this abuse by teaching children to recognize when they are being lured into a dangerous situation and help the child have a plan on how to halt it.
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LibraryThing member books-n-pickles
Next in my lineup of banned books was a big one, George M. Johnson's All Boys Aren't Blue, a book I had the privilege of contributing to in my own little under-the-hood-only way. It's been banned across the country pretty much from the moment it published.

I need to stress that my three-star rating
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is only because this book didn't ring all the bells in the melody that I, as an individual, like in my reading. I think this is mostly because the book is aimed at a YA audience and is, as the author himself points out, a memoir by someone only in his thirties. My biggest disconnect is that I like my nonfiction with more interpersonal details. For example, Johnson tells us that his mother chose a cousin of hers who was a lesbian to be Johnson's godmother, and speculates that perhaps his mother did this so he'd have someone on his side (and dang, do I wish I'd saved that quote). But we're not given any evidence that Johnson interacted with his godmother at all--no story of a moment when they met, never mind connected. Johnson also tells us that one of his cousins was trans, and while we do hear how his mother and grandmother accepted her, all he tells us about his own interaction with her is that he preferred talking with her and her girlfriends when the family got together at a picnic. A few more stories and details about how her presence and death impacted Johnson emotionally might have helped me connect to him better.

On a lower-order level, I zigzagged between feeling talked down to--Jim Crow was explained in about two sentences as a series of laws meant to keep Black people down--but also expected to have a high level of knowledge already, like an understanding that microaggressions add up to trauma, and that trauma doesn't just mean physical harm. I have a feeling that a teen's knowledge of U.S. history and the many forms racism can take varies widely by geography and privilege.

But look, all of that is personal to me and my reading preferences. What Johnson sets out to do in his book, as he says, is show kids who might be like was--queer boys, particularly black queer boys--that there's someone like them who's had experiences they might relate to and who has not only survived, but ultimately thrived, even if confused and closeted well into college. And that, I think, makes this book profoundly important for teens. Yeah, maybe its relative shortness leaves it a bit scant on the details, but I also think that allows room for kids to project themselves onto Johnson's experiences.

And that includes the scenes that "concerned citizens" are decrying as pornographic: a time in his preteens when an older cousin sexually abuses him, and his major "firsts" of consensual intercourse with other men. Yes, these scenes are explicit, if by explicit you mean that they include words like "penis" and "ejaculate", and a frank explanation of what happened and what it physically felt like. This isn't a blow-by-blow how-to-guide, but more a clinical, this-is-what-happened, this-is-how-it-felt-physically, just-the-facts-please way. These scenes aren't meant to titillate. True, they would probably fascinate and, yeah, maybe turn on a teen who hasn't been exposed to much explicit content, but compared to erotica or porn, it's small potatoes.

Ever since I finished this book I've been thinking about whether I would be comfortable with a teenager of my own--particularly a gay son--reading these scenes in this book. And I think I've arrived at the conclusion that, yes, I would be okay with it, and would hope that they'd feel comfortable enough to talk to me about it. In my own experience, the soft-focus, super-vague love and sex scenes in what I read as a teen--both YA and adult--were uninformative and unrealistic. Johnson's book isn't a guide to sex and consent (I actually would have liked a little more discussion of the latter), but at least it's real and honest. I'll leave Johnson himself to discuss his reasons for getting so personal about his private life: go read his interview in TIME about his memoir and its subsequent banning.

I don't think I've ever read nonfiction or memoirs specifically targeted at a YA audience--I kind of skipped straight from middle grade to adult nonfiction--so I really don't have anything to compare with All Boys Aren't Blue. And, okay, yes, I'm very much not the target audience: I'm a heteroromantic white woman in my 30s who was either oblivious to or perplexed by my friends' crushes when I was a teenager. I've also been trying harder to educate myself in the past few years, so a lot of the concepts that Johnson introduces as though new--as they very might well be, to a teen--are familiar to me. But just because I'm not the intended audience doesn't make this book any less important.

Oh, and while I'm here, I totally think this book needs to be released in mass market paperback. Remember those? I used to load up on them in middle school and high school, but I rarely see kids' and YA books in that format these days. But if there's a book that needs to be small and unobtrusive, it's All Boys Aren't Blue. Let's make it easier for kids who need and want to read it to pass this book around in spite of bans!
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LibraryThing member mjspear
A frank, long overdue, look at coming of age as a black queer man. It is graphic, at times, but not in a sensational or titillating way. I am happy that the author grew up in a middle class, loving, extended family. Still, the specter of death and violence was real and present. An important book
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that belongs in collections serving middle and high school students.
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LibraryThing member fred_mouse
While I found this book interesting, I'm very clearly not the target demographic. Johnson's writing is clear and engaging, but the topics covered -- being Black and queer in a society that can treat both poorly -- are not easy reading at time. Johnson's family, as a general group, are a delight, as
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are those of their college fraternity we are introduced to.

content warnings for racism, homophobia, death of a grandparent, death of a friend.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
All Boys Aren’t Blue is George M. Johnson’s manifesto and coming-of-age memoir about growing up Black and queer. Even as a small child, George felt different. They didn’t feel like a typical boy so they thought maybe they were a girl. They didn’t see a place for an effeminate male in their
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culture. They spent recess with the girls, double Dutch jump roping until one day they accidentally discovered they were a naturally good football player and that they liked to play football as much as they liked jumping rope. Then George was even more confused. As George got older, they figured out that they weren’t sexually attracted to girls but they weren’t ready to admit to themselves that they were attracted to boys.

Teenagers going through the same struggles as Johnson will appreciate their unflinchingly honest perspective. Their recounting of an episode of sexual abuse they experienced as a child was particularly brave. This is actually one of the excerpts that the parent groups trying to get this book banned have taken out of context and circulated. The fact that these groups would equate this scene with pornography makes it clear to me that they have not read the book. It’s not erotic at all and they should be ashamed of themselves for cheapening Johnson’s experience with their ignorance.

The other passage parents are upset about is when Johnson shares about losing their virginity – in college by the way. How many YA books feature young, white straight people losing their virginity or just plain out having sex repeatedly? Where’s the outcry? Judy Blume’s Forever, anyone? And again, this is not porn. This is a person being vulnerable and sharing an experience that teenagers will read and know that they are not alone in being scared and unsure. I can only imagine the impact it has on LGBTQ youth to read George’s story and know that not only are they not the only one who has struggled and been confused but that someone who went through it came out the other side a successful adult person. Representation matters.

Straight teens (and adults) should read this book too. It’s important to read about other people’s experiences and be able to see the world through a different lens. Books like this one can be powerful tools to build empathy and break down barriers.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bell7
George M. Johnson reflects on growing up a closeted gay Black boy, telling stories of his family, school, and going to college. Through it all, he encourages teens to be themselves, find a strong support group, and learn from his mistakes.

This was one of the top 10 most banned books in 2021. It's a
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memoir of a young man not much younger than me, whose formative experiences were very different from my own. I enjoy reading that kind of thing. It's not written to me - it's meant for young people, and he writes directly to them, often addressing advice to teens at the end of a chapter. He writes matter-of-factly about sexual abuse he experienced and sexual encounters in college. Johnson's young enough that he can remember and reflect on his mixed feelings about his identity and the awkwardness of coming out, and his love for his family really shines through. Probably my favorite part to read was his letters to different family members: his Nanny, his father, mother, and trans cousin Hope among them. Definitely recommended for high school and college age readers with an interest in memoirs.
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LibraryThing member phoenixcomet
I think there is power in this novel, and it does help to bring understanding to what a queer black boy, George Matthew Johnson, dealt with growing up, even in a middle class, loving family. However, there are 2 places where the content is graphic and parents may be uncomfortable with an immature
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or youngish 14 year old reading it. I would say 16 and older could benefit, especially if there was parental dialogue to go along with the memoir.
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LibraryThing member RandyMorgan
George M. Johnson writes and narrates their autobiography All Boys Aren’t Blue. They share the experience of self-exploration through language, clothing, and hobbies. George talks about abuse, racemes, and homophobia in a factual manner. Johnson then reflects on how these experiences affected
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their life. Johnson writes “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.”

Through writing, George captured the hardships of marginalized persons. George told and wrote a story in the style of their home community. This can make the timeline a little challenging. I admire Johnson’s dedication to creating an authentic experience for the reader.
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LibraryThing member acargile
I read this memoir because it had been removed from a few libraries.

As a memoir, Mr. Johnson tells about his life growing up queer. ("Queer" was a rude word that people didn't use when I was growing up, so I'm still adapting to the accepted and wanted use of the word now.) Not only is he gay, but
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he is also black. I am neither a male, gay, or black, so this book allowed me to see life from his point of view. I learned a lot. He was very lucky that his family had many members who were queer. His Nanny believed that loving each other was important. She told her grandchildren: I love each of you; it's just different. In other words, no one is a favorite or loved more or less than another. Each person needs love differently. How true! If we all show love ONE way to one another, we don't see the individuals in front of us. Mr. Johnson, George, always knew he didn't want to date girls. Always. He imagined himself as a girl. It was only when he got older that he realized that the family knew he was gay. He needed to feel comfortable enough with his own identity to tell others, so they waited. Was that right or wrong? We all do our best and sometimes choices are wrong for some and right for others. Nanny knew he needed a love that accepted him as a person worthy of love. He eventually discovered that he didn't want to be a woman, but he could only imagine being a girl because he liked boys. Had he had help from others, he would have understood his feelings and who he was. He was navigating blindly. Without education, it's hard to learn. In addition, George is black, which adds another level. He reveals that black queer adults have higher rates of STIs. He attended a Catholic high school where information about sex was basic and pushed abstinence. When he became a teen and then went to college, he didn't know anything because education had failed him. I didn't know any of this information and I'm an adult. He opened my eyes to how he was failed by society and by the education world.

I found George to be someone who wants to help others. When his grandmother was declining, he took care of her. He took care of many family members, seeing it as a privilege. He writes, "...taking care of someone who took care of you is one of the most powerful and transformative things you could do on this earth" (191). Most people feel burdened or embarrassed; he felt honored. The book, itself, is his attempt to help others. I assume three scenes are the reason people want to ban the book. In one scene, he describes a time when someone wants to "teach" him about being gay. He clearly states that what happened was wrong. I believe this scene happens a lot with many, many teenagers: heterosexual or gay. No one talks about it. He does. Teens need to know that if something like this happens to them, stop the person. It may seem innocent and, perhaps, seemingly helpful. He explains that it is not. Without clarity, teens can only guess; they go along because it seems harmless and they're curious. The other two scenes are sex scenes between two men. I found them very clinical and factual. Sexy, they were not. I would think a gay male teen would learn from these informative scenes. I wasn't offended at all. Did I learn something? Yep, I did. I'm not the audience for these scenes, but there are plenty of young people who have zero knowledge. Instead of remaining in ignorance, give them knowledge. I told my friend who is 77 years old about the scenes, just to get another viewpoint. Her son is gay. She wished her son had had a book like this and hates that it's not available in many libraries.

I will say, had there not been issues with the book, I never would have read it. I need to know what's out there for teens. If I have a parent whose child is gay and male, I could explain what the book entails and recommend it. Remember, libraries are about choice. When people need information, they have the ability to find it. Everyone needs different information. This book isn't required reading. If someone needs it, he has the choice to read it and decide what information informs him. If he doesn't find it useful, he can close the book and move on to another that will be more helpful. In the end, I think the book can help specific people. It can also open other people's eyes to a reality that we don't know exists. It becomes informative, allowing us to support all people with love and acceptance, without judgement.
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LibraryThing member BarnesBookshelf
Johnson says they wrote this book as a guide for young, black queers, and I'm glad they did. Their story is an important one, and one that isn't often heard in larger society. There were certain things that were hard to read, as often are in autobiographies. I loved the love letters to their
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various family members. Johnson's journey is a unique one, and I'd love for them to release another memoir-manifesto in a few years when they have more lessons to share.
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Physical description

320 p.; 8.6 inches


0374312710 / 9780374312718
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