Did you know that the collective noun for a group of flamingos is a flamboyance? A flamboyance of flamingos, how well that rolls off the tongue, and such a fitting word too for this gloriously 21st century coming-of-age novel. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta gives us Michael’s story. From birth to the cusp of adulthood, we bear witness to Michael’s voyage of self-discovery, via the challenges of growing up as a mixed-race gay teenager in London and the electrifying allure of the world of drag.
‘I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday roast, jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves.’
Michael is a quietly watchful and imaginative young Londoner, of Jamaican-Cypriot parentage. Spurned by a father who never wanted him, he grows up with his mum, nursing an uneasy sense of difference that he struggles to articulate. This Barbie loving little boy ponders the tyranny of gender-assigned toys and keeps secret his desire to play kiss chase with only boys. It will take a turbulent adolescence and the pivotal introduction of schoolmate and fellow misfit, Daisy Andrews, to set him on the journey to becoming his best self.
A companion and confidante, it is Daisy’s appearance in a glittery red dress that first prompts him ‘…to wonder how that dress would look on me,’ and she is the person he asks to accompany him on his first visit to a gay club. Sex, damaged friendships, going to uni, all the usual teen flash-points feel more acute to Michael as he grapples with an identity that feels not quite ‘black enough’ or ‘queer enough.’ His growing politicisation and need for self-expression are leaving him no longer content to hover in the wings of his own life, it’s time to take the spotlight.
Winner of the 2020 Stonewall Book Award, this verse novel is fresh, bold and modern, written for anyone who feels different or stands out from the crowd. It is validation and freedom in 360 wonderfully poetic pages.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta is published by Hodder Children’s Books, 368 pages.