Guest Review: All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M Johnson

A quick note: I’m Mel, the author of 99% of the reviews on this site. I’m a straight cis woman who firmly believes in equality and equity for LGBTQIA+ people. While I’ve been doing targeted reading for Pride Month, I haven’t really read a lot of queer books in any genre and I’m aware my reviews are coming from a rather narrow, albeit well-intentioned place. I thought I’d reach out to my global community and get a few guest reviews in to help us all out. On that note, I’m very excited to post my very first guest review from my good friend Rogene. I’ll let him introduce himself here, and then share his insightful review of a Pride Month read. Take it away Rogene!

Rogene Carter is a literature and Spanish teacher at an American high school in Shanghai, China. He enjoys literature of all sorts with a propensity for contemporary fiction and autobiographical works and is an avid reader. He also enjoys film, art, and traveling in his spare time.

At face value, All Boys Aren’t Blue definitely seemed like it would be right up my alley. I was completely enamored with the introduction of this memoir that was aptly entitled “Black. Queer. Here.” Unfortunately, my affection stops there. Johnson himself pledged quite a hefty package in his introduction, which dealt with everything from gendered norms to homosexuality to the plight of the Black American man within the United States. Johnson also promised to address the intersectionality of oppression that many of us marginalized groups experience as a result of belonging to more than one type of oppressed group—in his case being black and gay in a society that often unfairly treats individuals from either group as other or simply undeserving of the rights and privileges that are often associated with whiteness and heterosexuality or as extraneous to their idea of the “American dream” and thus dispensable. Navigating both of these spaces is a complex and often confounding tightrope walk that requires not only finesse but the understanding that one may fall short in one way or another.

While I am very proud to live in a world in which such a title could be published by a major publishing house(Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, a YA imprint of MacMillan Publishers), I am generally unimpressed by this work. Johnson did mention a lot of hot topics that are very of the moment but he did so in a very generalized manner. I found myself repeating the same mantra to myself while reading this book, “…this cannot possibly be it.”  There must be more substance to the narrative than simply the trials of coming out, navigating dating, and dealing with the demands of heteronormative ideals as a black, self-identified queer man. The major qualm I have with this work is that it promised to be informative and to shed light on so many topics and I found myself simply reading about his daily life, relationships, and feelings about his oppression. I wanted more. I wanted more research, more stories, more focus. Perhaps it was too much to ask for but I expected something amazing and was more than slightly disappointed and frankly offended to find mediocrity after a very long introduction with lots of grandiose and unfulfilled assurances.

Having said that, there were some standout chapters within this work such as “Nanny: The Caregiver, the Hustler, My Best Friend” which was a perfect homage to his grandmother and the impact that she had upon him. I also enjoyed the chapters dedicated to a relative of the author who was an out and proud transgendered woman but overall the enjoyment was limited, to say the least. Sexual molestation was also tackled in this memoir in the form of a letter delivered to the abuser who has since passed away and I thought it was powerfully written but also abrupt. Everything felt abrupt. I could feel the author’s trepidation to explore topics deeply within the writing and it made me wonder why he decided to wite the memoir that he claimed to be writing.

In summation, there was a lot of meat to this memoir but I wish that it was more finely tuned and included more substantive and academic influence to round out some of the sharp edges. I would have loved for Johnson to include more statistics or narratives outside of his own experience that could give the reader more foundational knowledge of the topics explored here as well as a meta-view of how these topics influence everyone, not just Johnson himself. Doing so perhaps would have made the memoir feel more academic and well-researched instead of personal and surface-level.

Perhaps that is too much to ask for from a memoir about the author’s personal experience or perhaps I am simply too discerning as both the target demographic of this work as well as a marginalized gay man, myself, but I simply wanted more to sink my teeth into. There are plethora of amazing memoirs, fiction and nonfiction titles that do a wonderful job of not only voicing the opinions and experiences of the author but also attempting to truly educate the reader on the experience detailed. A list of recommended titles will be included below. In all, I found George M. Johnson’s freshman attempt to be admirably intentioned but poorly researched and executed as well as a little lazy.

Some titles that I would recommend include:

“Orange Are Not the Only Fruit” by Jeannette Winterson

“The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith

“George” by Alex Gino

“The Black Flamingo” by Dean Atta

“King and the Dragonflies” by Kacen Callender

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong

“Not Here” by Hieu Minh Nguyen

“Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith

“I’m Afraid of Men” by Vivek Shraya

“Junk” by Tommy Pico

(See all these books together in one place HERE.)

Mel here again! Many thanks to Rogene for the review and to you for reading it! If you want to read this book, consider purchasing it HERE from Bookshop, the online portal for indie bookstores. I am an affiliate of Bookshop and will earn a commission if you click and purchase from any links on this site. 

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