Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo is being presented as a ‘Young Adult’ book, but don’t let that make you think it’s childish, this is a gorgeous and moving first person exploration of sexuality, poetry, blackness and love that most ‘adult’ books struggle to achieve.
The Black Flamingo is the story of Michael, a mixed-race child in London with a Jamaican, absent, father and a Greek-Cypriot mother. From the earliest inklings of his sexuality and conception of race, through his teenage years and eventually his drag debut as an adult, Michael struggles with not feeling “black enough” or “Greek enough” or “queer enough” and looking for his place.
Atta has turned what was a spoken word performance into a nuanced piece of freeform verse that oozes with warmth, insight and forgiveness. This is as much a tale of self-acceptance as it is a tale of self-discovery. The poetic nature of the text gives the reader a sense of intimacy, like an elevated form of journal-reading. You are placed in the mind of an introvert as he grows through the years, full of self-doubt and endless questions. From teenage crushes, maturing friendships, questions about gender and race in the modern world – these are treated with thoughtful examination.
I was struck by the lack of anger, that so often accompanies these stories. Which isn’t to say Michael doesn’t have rage at events, but they are presented with a mature sensibility that is calming. This is a safe space wrapped up in verse.
The text is supported by beautiful illustrations by Anshika Khullar – don’t you dare try to read this on a Kindle, you want to feel the texture of the page with these stunning images.
When I finished reading the book, I had to take a moment to wipe the happy tears from my face (once you read the final few pages you’ll understand why). The Black Flamingo is such a beautiful piece of work, filled with love and insight and words I would have longed to read as a teenager/20-something and still needed to hear them again as an adult.
By Chad Armstrong
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta is on Sale in the UK from 8th August 2019 priced £12.99. ISBN-13: 9781444948592.