YA Review: The Black Flamingo

Title: The Black Flamingo
Author: Dean Atta
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

This is a beautiful book. Yes, it has a gorgeous cover and lovely illustrations – but the beauty is in the language, the characters, and the story.

When I picked it up I didn’t realise it was written in verse, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The main character’s voice drew me in from the start, and the use of verse and stand-alone poems provided a powerful short cut into his emotional experiences. The descriptions, the storytelling, and the supporting characters are all handled with an extremely light touch, but the words are carefully chosen and the images and experiences are vivid and clear.

This is a book about identity – discovering and claiming the right to express who you are, while navigating the complex demands of family, friends, and the colour of your skin. With a Greek mother and a Jamaican father, Michael struggles to find his place in a world that finds him too black, not black enough, or not Greek enough. His disappointment when his mother refuses to buy him the Barbie he so desperately wants for his sixth birthday sets the scene for the story, and begins his journey of self-discovery.

It’s a quick read, but it follows Michael through school and on to university, spotlighting important events to tell his story. His experiences as a gay, mixed-race teenager are sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes heartwarming, but all of them contribute to his need to find and define himself. When he joins the Drag Society at university, he finally has the chance to bring all his experiences and influences together, and the freedom to be fully himself.

When Michael takes to the stage as the Black Flamingo, his costume, poetry, and interaction with the audience bring together everything he has experienced, and everything he has learned. After a lifetime of finding himself defined by other people, the freedom – and the permission – to present himself in his own way feels absolutely inspiring.

The Epilogue, a poem called ‘How to Come Out as Gay’, repackages the message of the book in a few lines, reinforcing the idea that there is no right way to be yourself, and that only you can figure out who you are, and what you want to show to the world. It’s an empowering, emotional end to an empowering and emotional book. Highly recommended.

Have you read The Black Flamingo? What did you think of the story? What did you think about Michael’s journey, and the poem at the end? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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