I am pulling from a few recent books to construct this thought about All Boys Aren’t Blue and why this book is necessary. Empathy is a necessary component of understanding that other people have value. Empathy requires imagination and imagination needs at least a few points of reference. George M. Johnson’s memoir manifesto is their story of being black and queer in America. Their story is not intended to be the story, but a story that opens the doors for readers to find their own authentic self.
A lot of this current spate of book banning is about who gets seen, who is valid. All Boys Aren’t Blue states that George, a queer, Black, non-binary person, is valid and worth being seen. In addition, you, dear reader, have the right to explore your own identity and assert your own valid existence.
As a child in the 1970s, I was raised on Free to Be…You and Me, Sesame Street, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Those shows worked on me. I think people have a right to be who they are, exist, and claim space. Even raised as I was to be accepting of others, I still grew up in the United States, so my default understanding of the world is white, male, and straight. I have spent my whole life trying to figure out what it means to be a girl. At three I thought I had it all figured out – girls wore long dresses and if we couldn’t wear a long dress we wore pink. There are a few photos of my poor hippie mother in her jeans and no make-up side-eyeing me with my curls and floor length gowns that she was kind enough to sew for me. My parents in attempting to avoid the evils of their own upbringings taught me all people are the same, which has the downside of flattening the complexity of the world.
All of which is to say, I didn’t understand a lot about the world until I was an adult. I had no framework for understanding how being Black or queer or both impacted people lives, positively or negatively. No framework meant no imagination, meant no empathy. I’m sure I have been somebody’s casually callous monster.
My road to seeing nuance, to building a framework that really does let people be their own authentic selves has been long and it still goes on. As wicherwill said in our Cannon Book Club We’re With the Banned discussion, we are in a Golden Age of representation in YA books. I am so happy and a little jealous that kids have access to so many different examples of ways to be. In his honesty about his struggle to conform to expectations and the harm that caused, and his fight to be the person they feel themselves to be, George M. Johnson sets a path for all of us readers to explore who we are apart from social expectations.