All Boys Aren't Blue
Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of “All Boys Aren't Blue” by George M. Johnson. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto (2020) is a young adult memoir written by activist George M. Johnson about their experience growing up Black and queer. The chapters are collected in four acts (referred to as “parts” in this guide). Each chapter is a self-contained essay; the memoir progresses through Johnson’s life from childhood to college graduation. Two letters addressed to their mother and brother appear alongside the chapters.
All Boys Aren’t Blue garnered national attention both for the awards it won and the censorship it has been subject to. The Young Adult Library Services Association selected the book as one of the 2021 Teens’ Top Ten titles; it was also a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Award in 2019 for memoirs and autobiographies. Several school boards across the United States have banned the memoir, citing various reasons, including sensitive material or pornographic elements. The works on many of these ban lists disproportionately deal with LGBTQ+ and racial themes.
This guide uses the Farrar, Straus and Giroux eBook edition. Pagination refers to the Nook formatted version. Page numbers may differ slightly on other devices.
Note: While the text uses he/him pronouns to refer to the author, George M. Johnson has since adopted they/them pronouns. Johnson explains in multiple chapters that some of the language within All Boys Aren’t Blue is outdated because they did not have the language then that they do now. This guide refers to the author exclusively with they/them pronouns. Additionally, while the term “queer” was historically a slur and may be upsetting to some readers, Johnson uses this term frequently to describe their identity and the LGBTQ+ community. This guide uses this term in alignment with the author’s intent while also noting Johnson’s recommendation that those who do not identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community avoid using it.
Content Warning: All Boys Aren’t Blue contains sensitive material that may be difficult for some readers. This includes racial slurs, racism, physical and sexual abuse, injury and death, graphic depictions of sexual encounters, bullying and harassment, and anti-LGBTQ+ language and sentiments.
Part 1, “A Different Kid,” covers Johnson’s life from kindergarten to junior high. Chapter 1 introduces the trauma Johnson carries their whole life in relation to smiling, tying this to society’s expectation that boys hold in all their emotions and pain. In Chapter 2, Johnson (who goes by their middle name, Matthew) learns that their first name is George and experiences an identity crisis that parallels their struggles with being queer. In Chapter 3, Johnson begins coining “girly” phrases that adults in the school administration force them to stop using. In Chapter 4, Johnson plays football instead of jump rope to protect their pride and to ward off other boys calling them anti-gay slurs. In Chapter 5, Johnson explores feelings of betrayal by the education system regarding learning United States history as a Black child. Chapter 6 concludes Part 1 with Johnson acquiring cowboy boots to express their queerness and then learning how to swim when their cousins throw them in a pool. Part 1 lays out the intersection of identities, Black and queer, that define Johnson and briefly explores the family support network that shapes their life.
Part 2, “Family,” does not follow a consistent chronological scheme and explores various crucial facets of Johnson’s family life. This section opens with a letter entitled “Dear Little Brother,” which is addressed to Johnson’s younger brother, Garrett, and focuses on Garrett’s acceptance of Johnson. Chapter 7 features Nanny, Johnson’s maternal grandmother and a key figure in the memoir. Chapter 8 narrates Johnson’s relationship with their father, who has an estranged gay son from a previous marriage. Chapter 9 is about Hope, Johnson’s transgender cousin, who died young and is a beacon of queer perseverance to Johnson. “Dear Mommy” is another letter that directly addresses Johnson’s mother, who never hesitated to accept Johnson when they came out to her. Chapter 10 is about Johnson reconciling with Nanny’s imminent death and caring for their family in old age.
Part 3, “Teenagers,” spans Johnson’s life from junior high to the first semester of college. Chapter 11 is about Johnson’s sexual assault in a school bathroom, as well as their sexual abuse by a cousin, Thomas, who is also queer. Thomas is eventually killed because he is gay. Johnson empathizes with Thomas as an adult, emphasizing that it is a personal choice to do so. Chapter 12 is about Johnson’s first queer friend and crush, Zamis. Both Johnson and Zamis lie to one another about being gay in high school and meet by happenstance in a gay bar later in life. Chapter 13 is about Johnson leaving home for college and dreaming about living openly as a gay person. These dreams fade when Johnson cannot overcome their shame and fear of being a disappointment.
Part 4, “Friends,” follows Johnson’s life from their second semester of college to the death of their friend Kenny in their senior year. Chapter 14 is about Johnson burning out at school and finding a new home in the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha and their line brothers (a group of fellow applicants to the fraternity), many of whom are also queer. Chapter 15 is about Johnson’s first voluntary sexual encounters as an adult and the fumbling that occurs because of lack of queer sex education. Chapter 16 is about the death of a line brother, Kenny, the first person to accept Johnson as queer. Johnson and their line brothers come together to bury Kenny and celebrate his life. The memoir ends with Kenny’s death as a reminder that nobody has infinite time to accomplish what they want, including living authentically.