All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This is Johnson’s memoir, reflecting on his experiences as a young Black gay man growing up in America. The book encompasses many big themes, including queerness, family, identity, racism, abuse, and masculinity.
I appreciated how frank and self-aware Johnson’s writing is. His commentary on the differences between sex and gender, and the coding of language, clothing and behaviour to uphold a strict binary and suppress queer expression is particularly excellent. The section which sees him write open letters to loved ones about the important roles they’ve played in his life is also very moving.
Though I found his voice consistently engaging, I will say a couple of the anecdotes shared felt somewhat tenuously linked to the points Johnson was trying to make. This meant they paled in comparison to the power and effectiveness of the book’s more successful sections. Due to its essay-like structure, the book is also non-linear in a way that can leave it feeling as though it lacks a sense of overall direction at times.
Queer youth (especially Black queer youth) will see so many of their own experiences reflected in Johnson’s work, and it’s great to know books like this will help the next generation feel less alone in their struggles.
Let Them Eat Chaos by Kae Tempest*
Published by Picador, 2016
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This full-length narrative poem weaves in and out of the homes of seven people who all live on the same street in London, as they lie awake at 4am. They are strangers to each other, but through a series of snapshots into their lives, Tempest captures the universal anxieties of modern life, despite their different circumstances.
It’s remarkable how much Tempest can convey with few words, giving us a clear sense of each person and the struggles of their daily lives, while commenting on the wider societal problems of wealth disparity, disenfranchisement, and an increased sense of disconnection from the world around us – a theme that resonates particularly strongly in the current climate.
It’s hard to describe why I loved this so much, and to pull random extracts from it would do no justice to its cumulative power. Suffice to say it is beautifully observed, articulating with gut-punch wisdom so much of where we’re going wrong; in how we treat ourselves, in how we treat each other, and in how we treat the planet. But for all its pathos, it is also an impassioned and hopeful call for kindness and connection.
*The edition I read was first published when Tempest went by a different first name and used female pronouns. They have since come out as non-binary, go by the name Kae, and prefer the use of they/them. Please bear that in mind when reading/discussing their back catalogue of work.