In a powerful memoir and manifesto, George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue has made waves since the book’s publication in 2020. The list of awards is impressive, including: a New York Times and Indie Bestseller, Amazon Best Book of the Year, CNN Summer Read Pick, recommended read for Teen Vogue and Buzzfeed, Best Book of 2020 for the New York Library, the Chicago Public Library, and Kirkus Reviews; list pick for ALA’s Rainbow List, Publisher’s Weekly’s Anti-Racist List, and for the 2021 Texas Topaz Nonfiction Reading List.
With almost alarming speed the number of states that have banned Johnson’s book in their school or public libraries has reached numbers that rival the number of accolades; the count of states that have banned or challenged All Boys Aren’t Blue reached 21 as of early March 2022. In Salina, Kansas, a school district faced a challenge to All Boys Aren’t Blue in a heated school board meeting in February 2022. The community members who brought the challenge to the school did not have students enrolled in the district. After following their review process, the district decided to keep Johnson’s book on the shelves at the school.
Perhaps more alarming is the self-censorship seen in Wicomico County, Maryland in March of 2022. Two media specialists removed All Boys Aren’t Blue despite a lack of complaints. By doing so, they avoided the district’s review process and any potential ire from community members. While this particular instance made the news and garnered attention from the National Coalition Against Censorship, it is not much of a stretch to assume it has happened silently elsewhere in greater numbers as the challenges escalate nationwide.
With states like Utah and Florida creating laws to target books like Johnson’s, and schools self-censoring rather than face complaints, it is no wonder that George M. Johnson’s book has made the Top Ten Most Challenged Books for 2021. But, more importantly, it reaches the people who need to hear what Johnson has to say and read the story they have to tell of their life. In Flagler County, Florida, students held protests against the removal of All Boys Aren’t Blue, organized by 17-year-old Jack Petocz. “When I read (All Boys Aren’t Blue), I identified a lot with Johnson’s struggles, (with) constantly having that conversation brought up as a young kid — are you gay? and the fear of that resonated with it.” With chapters that could stand alone as single essays, and an accessible, conversational tone that feels like an intimate conversation with a friend, All Boys Aren’t Blue is a captivating, personal narrative told for those who have been erased—and continue to face erasure.
Nia Thimakis is a substitute librarian in the Carroll County Public Library system in Maryland. She has been active on state and ALA divisions and round tables since 2016, and has had a strong opinion against banning books since she was young. Lucky enough to attend schools that believed in access to typically banned materials, and growing up in a house that supported uncensored reading, she believes access should not be a matter of luck or circumstance. She has experience in nonprofits, technical writing, instructional design, and has a love for exploring coffee shops with her daughter.