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The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta - Review

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Where did I get it? Round Table Books, which is a place I would really like to visit one of these days. Before lockdown started properly, they were offering to post books that you ordered with them, so I ordered three of the Carnegie longlist as I'm determined to read most of the list this year. I desperately wanted to read The Black Flamingo - I've heard so many amazing things about it and my friend Lucinda said it was the best book she read last year. I was going to buy it at Northern YA Lit Fest as Dean was going to be there and I could have got it signed, but that was of course cancelled. So I ordered the book from an independent bookshop - when this is all over, they're going to need our help more than ever. I DMed them and they couldn't have been more helpful. I'm not sure if they're still able to take orders, but do ask them if you're after something, they can only say no!

What's it about? It's about Michael, who is gay and mixed race. His mum is Greek-Cypriot and his dad is Jamaican, although he's not in Michael's life for very long. The book is told in verse and takes place over twelve years of Michael's life. At the beginning he's a kid who wants a Barbie for Christmas and by the end he's at uni, about to make a debut performance as the Black Flamingo. In the middle Michael comes out, struggles at school, struggles with his identity both in terms of sexuality and race, and the intersection where those identities meet. This sounds like a rubbish write up because really it's like the whole entirety of a life from child to adult. It's expansive, and told in really gorgeous verse. Dean is a poet and it really shows. I've heard that the audibook is read by Dean and I would love to listen to this to hear how it was supposed to be. 

I'm not much of a poet or a poetry critic, but there were some really interesting choices in the words, and in where lines cut off, which added to the poems and to my understanding. There are also some social media parts, chats between Michael and his friends. 

I read the last half of the book in just about an hour because I was so desperate to know where it ended. I loved Michael, I thought he was a great character, and I liked his mum and best friend Daisy too. 

What age range is it for? You know, I'm going to say from aged about fourteen right up to adult. This doesn't feel like just a YA book to me - it's so expansive that it deserves to be really widely read. If you're a queer adult I would recommend this. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, obviously. Michael seems to know he's gay from quite a young age, but still struggles with self-acceptance and acceptance from those around him. There are people with other genders and sexualities too, and I thought how Michael interacted with these people was really nicely portrayed. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Obviously. Michael doesn't have a relationship with his father, but has somewhat of a relationship with his dad's Jamaican family. When he first goes to university, he cooks Caribbean food. He has a younger sister, Anna, whose dad is also Jamaican. The family also goes to Cyprus to see his mum's family - this was one of my favourite parts of the book actually! I liked how Michael felt as a multi-ethnic person and how conflicting he found it at times to know where he fitted in. I liked the people he was friends with - Lennie is really underrated in this book I felt! - and how some of the racism Michael encountered was shown. It felt very real and brilliantly shown. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No I don't think so. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, a little. It's not graphic and there's safe sex which I am always in favour of seeing in a YA book. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Weed, it's not graphic. 

Is there any talk of death? No. 

Are there swear words? A couple, not many 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none! I loved the book - everyone else was right when they said this is a must read book. I do wish we'd seen more of Anna as she grew up, but that was literally it. 

Would I recommend the book? God yes. I can't wait to see what Dean writes next! 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It arrived and I was just so desperate to get to it. 

What do I think of the cover? It's gorgeous. It's so eye-catching and enticing. It's definitely a big part of the book. 

I should also mention that the illustrator for the book was Anshika Khullar. The book has illustrations and also pages that are black with white writing, and I like Anshika did so well in adding to the content of the book with their illustrations. It almost reads a bit more like a graphic novel because of the illustrations, and I LOVED it even more because of that. It is a really gorgeous book in tactile turns, and I am glad!

What other books is it like? I found it quite similar to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. 

How many stars? Five out of five! Seven out of five! 

Where is the book going now? Oh, I'm keeping it. I'm still hoping I'll meet Dean somewhere!

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