The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta – Book review

Blurb from Goodreads

Fiercely told, this is a timely coming-of-age story, told in verse about the journey to self-acceptance. Perfect for fans of Sarah Crossan, Poet X and Orangeboy.

A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.

*I masquerade in makeup and feathers and I am applauded.*

My Review

I haven’t loved verse novels in the past. I have found them hard to connect to…
Until The Black Flamingo.

Men are sand castles made out of pebbles

and the bucket is patriarchy: if you remove it,

we fear we won’t be able to hold ourselves

together, we pour in cement to fill the gaps

to make ourselves concrete constructions

This book is truly beautiful.
It’s about understanding your own identity and knowing that you are the one in charge of the terms and conditions of such.

He is me, who I have been,

who I am, who I hope to become.

Someone fabulous, wild and strong.

With or without a costume on.

As a white, straight, cisgendered woman technically I have very little in common with the main character in this book and my voice is not the one you should be listening to when it comes to singing this books praises.
Michael is mixed race. He is gay. He is struggling to find his identity. Where he feels he can be himself. But the beauty of this book is this is his story.
It’s not about me.
It’s not about you.
It’s about Michael and his path to embracing who he is. And through Michael’s journey we can all ask ourselves who we are.

You both need to understand the black woman, black man, black trans person is always last to be thought of as attractive in this white supremacist society. We are all – black and white alike – shown a beauty standard of light skin and “good hair”, maybe big lips, maybe a big bum, but hardly ever on someone with darker skin. When a black person says they’re only into white people that’s internalised racism. When a white person says they’re only into block people that’s fetishisation, which is also a form of racism. If their skin or racialised features matter more to you than the person within, that’s racism. I can’t be your friend without calling this out. Your ignorance may be innocent but the racism is real. I want both of you to think about how what you said might make me feel.

The book follows Michael all the way from childhood to university life. And at every step it is hauntingly beautiful. It’s honest. It’s unflinching.

Simple things such as the engendered way children are given particular toys to play with are exposed for their confining message.

We follow Michael as he loves for the first time.
As he confuses attention and love.
As he deals with vitriol and hatred.
As he gets continually shamed for being him.
As he struggles with his mixed race identity and not being either white enough or black enough.
As he finally finds himself through drag performance.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are half anything…

You are a full human being. It’s never as simple as being half and half.

I adore this book.
The prose is both lyrical and accessible but more than anything it is deeply moving. There are so many passages and excerpts that I could quote from.

I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday

roast, jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves.

I come from travelling through taste buds

but loving where I live. I come from

a home that some would call broken.

I come from DIY that never got done,

I come from waiting by the phone

for him to call. I come from waving

the white flag to loneliness. I come from

the rainbow flag and the Union Jack

I come from a British passport

and an ever-ready suitcase. I come from

jet fuel and fresh coconut water.

I come from crossing oceans

to find myself. I come from deep issues

and shallow solutions.

I come from a limited vocabulary

but an unrestricted imagination.

I come from a decent education

and a marvellous mother.

I come from being given permission

to dream but choosing to wake up

instead. I come from wherever I lay

my head. I come from unanswered

questions and unread books, unnoticed

effort and undelivered apologies

and thanks. I come from who I trust

and who I have left.

I come from last year and last year

and I don’t notice how I’ve changed.

I come from looking in the mirror

and looking online to find myself.

I come from stories, myths, legends

and folk tales. I come from lullabies

and pop songs, hip-hop and poetry.

I come from griots, grandmothers

and her-story tellers. I come from

published words and strangers’ smiles.

I come from my own pen but I see

people torn apart like paper, each a story

or poem that never made it into a book.

The world needs to know more about Michael.
We need books like this to spread acceptance, inclusivity, diversity.

This gorgeous book has just smashed my heart and made me fall so deeply in love with it.

Five stars.

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12 thoughts on “The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta – Book review

  1. Omg, amazing!!! All these quotes are having me screaming out “YAAAS!” Definitely adding this one to my TBR now! I can’t believe that it isn’t more widely talked about or hyped! 😍 Fantastic review, Emer! 🖤🖤🖤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it’s out in the USA yet which might have an influence on why you haven’t seen as much hype (depending on where the bloggers etc that you follow are from) but it’s definitely been quite hyped in the more indie bookshops here. It’s honestly brilliant Dini, really couldn’t recommend it more highly

      Like

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