Before I took a break from blogging, I did monthly wrap-ups and they were really long and took ages to write and put together so I wanted to try something different. I want to put out mini-reviews every time I complete three books. I think this will be more manageable for me and more readable for you guys so let’s get started! Find my last “Recent Reads” here.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Release Date: April 28, 2020
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
I am so appreciative of the themes Johnson discusses in this essay collection. It is so important to talk about and reflect on the intersectionality of Blackness and queerness and how those marginalizations come together and can create a completely different lived experience. I think Johnson had so many smart and important observations surrounding topics ranging from they way the school system teaching American history to the safety that comes with remaining closeted and how that causes inner turmoil. I was highlighting and rereading certain quotes that really gripped me.
That being said, there were some places where the writing didn’t do it for me. I sometimes felt that there were a lot of themes being tackled in a single essay and I knew what Johnson was getting at but the connections weren’t super clear. It took me out of the story a bit sometimes. If the essays were a little longer, that might have helped as there would be more room to really explore the connections between the ideas. I still think this is a really solid book and can be incredibly impactful and important especially for the YA audience it’s targeted towards especially if those readers are queer, Black, or both.
Me by Elton John
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Trigger warnings include bulimia, drug use, and addiction
Elton John is the most enduringly successful singer-songwriter of all time. His life is extraordinary, packed with incredible highs and lows, from a troubled childhood to chart-topping superstardom, from cocaine addiction to friendships with John Lennon, George Michael and Princess Diana, from outrageous excess to finding happiness as a husband and father. Now, in his own words and with his usual honesty, he shares his story–every hilarious, heartbreaking moment.
I won this book and it was sent by the publisher but this has no bearing on my review. I don’t even like movies but I’ve seen Rocketman twice and think about it all the time. Even before that, I was interested in reading Elton John’s autobiography and was thrilled when I got the chance to read it. I have always enjoyed autobiographies from musicians. I like learning about music in this way but Me does some specific things I truly appreciate. For one, it does not shy away from showing John in a less than flattering light. From his temper to his eating disorder to his drug abuse, readers are brought along for the ride. It isn’t just a “look at me I’m so great” type of story. I also greatly appreciate John acknowledging the true roots of the music he became famous for. He talks about Black artists he played with and looked up to and celebrates them. Many stories about rock and pop music conveniently don’t talk about Black people who pioneered the genre unless it’s Hendrix. Maybe Chuck Berry. Hearing John talk multiple times at length about Black pioneers in music was refreshing. I went back and forth between physically reading and listening to the audiobook on my walks. The audiobook is read by Taron Egerton who plays him in the Rocketman film. His acting and use of different voices really added to the experience.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Genre: Adult Thriller
The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.
But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?
I’ve seen conversations surrounding this book claiming that it isn’t really a thriller or it isn’t scary but I’m going to have to disrespectfully disagree. This story is incredibly unsettling. Alyssa Cole’s writing creates a sense of unease throughout the narrative and the pacing adds to a constant feeling of something incredibly menacing. Themes of gentrification, community, and others I can’t mention without spoiling the ending, come together to create a book that I haven’t seen more deserving of the “thriller” genre in years.
Additionally, I appreciated sections between chapters that showed posts and comments about things going on in the community from members that have been there forever and newcomers. You can see the tension rising in those sections. The climax of this story also left my heart pounding. I just had to know what would happen next. If reviews claiming this isn’t really a thriller have put you off, please give it a chance. This book is phenomenal.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!