“Celebratory and passionate, Atta’s bold verse novel calls to its readers to find their own blazing, performative inner truth.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
The Black Flamingo is a young adult book by poet, Dean Atta, featuring beautiful black and white illustrations by Anshika Khullar, a gender-fluid Indian artist/illustrator based in the South of England. Khullar’s work aims “to uplift marginalised people of all genders, races, sizes and abilities” which makes them a perfect fit for Atta’s book.
Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo tells the story of Michael, a mixed-race, gay teenager navigating the world and coming to terms with his identity in this bold and beautiful tale. Written entirely in verse, aside from sections portraying text messages and poetry made to appear as though it’s written by the book’s main character, Michael, this book is immediately unique in the way it is written and, therefore, read. The verse style allows the author to put emphasis on specific words or sentences so that they resonate in a different way for the reader. What’s more, the style makes it flow and quick to read and especially easy to pick up and put down whenever needed if the reader lives a busy lifestyle.
Michael’s story explores the experiences of a young, gay, mixed-race teenager and how each of these identities intersects in making him unique. To begin with, Michael struggles with the conflicts each of these parts of his identity seem to have, however, he eventually realises that all of these things and many other aspects of his personality and life make him unique and that is something powerful that he can embrace.
The book also tackles important but often difficult topics including; homophobia and racism, both of which are portrayed in two different forms, bullying and prejudice from outsiders as well as the internalised homophobia and racism that many of the characters hold and have to come to terms with themselves. What’s more, The Black Flamingo also highlights the issues surrounding toxic masculinity and the way it often forces boys and young men away from the things they love and towards stereotypically acceptable ‘masculine’ traits and activities. For example, Michael resents the fact that his younger sister is allowed to play with his toys and wear his hand-me-down clothes but it was frowned upon when Michael wanted to play with dolls. The Black Flamingo, therefore, explores the blurring of gender, gender fluidity and non-conformity. It also touches on gender pronouns, non-binary representation and the importance of using people’s correct pronouns to validate their identity.
Added 25th February 2016
The Black Flamingo ends with Michael taking part in a drag show at university, performing as ‘The Black Flamingo’ and using spoken word poetry to make a powerful statement about his identity. Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo is not only a powerful narrative but it is also inspirational, moving, heartwarming. It also allows readers to see themselves reflected in the pages but most importantly, it reminds the reader that only you can choose and define who you are, and that embracing your differences and uniquenesses are power in themselves.
Catherine Muxworthy, Booksbirdblog
Added 20th August 2020