The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo is the debut novel by British poet Dean Atta, named one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the U.K by the Independent newspaper. It was published in 2019 by Hodder Children’s Books, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group and includes lively illustrations by Anshika Khullar. It won the 2020 Stonewall Book Award, plus it was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2020. The Black Flamingo is a stirring must-read that challenges several negative biases and what constitutes freedom.

Synopsis: Set in Wembley, The Black Flamingo takes us on a journey of self-acceptance with the protagonist Michael, as he comes to terms with the identity crisis that is his mixed heritage and his sexuality as a gay male. We follow the highs and lows of his childhood into his adolescence and watch him soar as he discovers the liberating art of drag.

This book is an outstanding story, completely written in verse but in such a way that was unadorned and facile yet profoundly meaningful. It challenges societal forms of oppression that have been watered down into normality and incites some deep conversation in a simplistic but effective way.

For example, it highlights the sense of displacement that Michael and his sister feel towards their Greek Cypriot culture. It looks at the complicit ways in which those closest to gay people can perpetuate homophobia, such as Michael’s mother and best friend, Daisy. It also incites thought on the gendered behaviours that get dictated to children during their infancy and so many other points of relevant conversation, enough to write up a book-length essay on!

But The Black Flamingo does more than just paint a larger picture of deeply ingrained phobic issues, it also takes us on a journey of personal growth. We experience the angsty moments, the moments of resentment towards an absent father, the moments of heartbreak and most crucially, the moments of joy with Michael. Thus, we share in his excitement as he finally dons his feathers for his time to shine.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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