A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Growing up in New Jersey at the turn of the millennium as part of a large, close-knit family. Some examples of Jim Crow laws. Encourages readers to research gender identity and the term "intersex." Why defining gender and establishing gender and sexual norms can cause harm. A few specific sexual acts like oral sex and anal penetration explained. Several infamous cases of violence against Black and queer people.
The world still isn't safe for queer people. Marginalized people have every right to take up space, be educated, live, work, thrive, and love. And if you are marginalized, you can't see yourself fitting into the world unless you see other people like yourself living, thriving, etc. Being fully educated about your identity is the best tool against oppression because of your identity.
Positive Role Models
George and their large, close-knit family model communication, empathy, and teamwork. Everyone helps everyone when they need it, they listen to each other without judgement and offer support and understanding. George likes being smart and athletic, and values education. College friends and fraternity brothers model close, supportive bonds of friendship, loyalty, and mutual support. George wants to help other kids and teens like himself understand themselves and the world they navigate better than he did at their age.
George is Black and queer. Their family are all Black with a range of skin tones. One family member transitioned from male to female. They had a few White friends in high school, then went on to an Historically Black university and joined a Black fraternity, where they learned that several other members of the chapter were also queer.
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Violence & Scariness
Sexual assault and molestation by an older teen on a 13-year-old mentions an erect penis, touching each other, performing and receiving oral sex, rubbing bodies on the floor, and being told to watch the perpetrator masturbate and ejaculate. A 5-year-old is attacked by older elementary-aged kids, held to the ground and kicked in the face until their teeth shattered. Blood is mentioned and pain is described. Several infamous cases of violence against Black and queer people, including one involving sticking a plunger in the victim's rectum and another man who killed his son because he didn't want a gay child.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mentions using condoms and what flavor one was. A few instances of kissing and making out. The first time masturbating is described vaguely, without specifics. See our Violence section for additional content related to sexual assault and molestation.
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"S--t," "d--k (body part)," "ass," "damn," and "hell." Author's introduction explains the different spellings and contexts for "f-g," "f--got," "nigga," and the "N" word.
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Products & Purchases
Occasional food, beverage, clothing, pop culture, and tech products for historical context or character development.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A period of heavy marijuana use (three blunts a day) described negatively with academic consequences, and the decision to cut back to once every few weeks. Underage college students drink alcohol and party. Cigarettes mentioned among incidentals from a grocery store, and a relative who smoked.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that All Boys Aren't Blue is a frank memoir about how the author came to understand their identity, especially in areas where being both Black and queer intersect and separate. It's frequently challenged and has been censored or banned in numerous states. There are specific descriptions of consensual sex and a sexual assault that aren't erotic. The author explains that they're meant to give marginalized teens information, expectations, and representation of themselves. A couple of violent incidents against the author are also specific but not gory, but blood is mentioned. Teens in college drink, party, and smoke marijuana. Strong language includes "s--t" and "d--k." An introduction explains the contexts and uses of "f-g," "f--got," "nigga," and the "N" word.
Is It Any Good?
Author George M. Johnson's memoir is brave, honest, moving, and sometimes even funny. All Boys Aren't Blue takes on a lot of tough, scary topics, and Johnson approaches them frankly. His perspective looking back on his life now is always infused with a sense of love, both of family and of the young readers like himself that he hopes to help.
His calls for change, education, and equality are also strong, with historical context and emphasis on the need for marginalized teens to learn from others like themselves, and to see themselves as whole, full members of society. Some of the emphasis comes from being almost too repetitive, but it's a minor flaw that's eventually overcome. Despite the controversy that mostly surrounds the sexual content, reading Johnson's story will help marginalized teens realize they're not alone, and will foster empathy and understanding from readers of any background.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.