This is another welcome addition to the canon of LGBT+ literature for young adults which feels like it is meant to last for more than the current generation discovering it. The author’s unique selling point here is that he has produced a verse novel, now this might sound off-putting, but actually makes the work really accessible. It’s written plainly, no meanings hidden behind poetic language, in fact, many readers might not realise they are reading verse at all, but will be drawn in by the movement and rhythm of the piece. The varied lay-out of the book is also impressive.
This is the fictional tale of Michael, who with his Black Jamaican/Greek-Cypriot heritage feels that he is a different person for different members of the family. This is a boy who yearns for a Barbie for his 6th birthday and as a teenager adopts another persona, The Black Flamingo, to reinforce his sense of identity in a sheen of fabulousness. Within Atta’s vibrant language we have the tale of a boy growing up, his London childhood, his school days and a move to Brighton University exploring aspects of himself; his black culture, his Greek-Cypriot identity, his sexuality and finding answers through the medium of drag.
To read this is also to become involved in the history which has helped Michael accept himself and at one point he thanks the performers and activists who mean much to him. This is the second time I’ve seen this done recently- Robert Jones Jnr in his outstanding “The Prophets” has hundreds of acknowledgements but Michael’s list has a British bias and I would hope that those reading this would find out more about the names they are not familiar with.
Dean Atta has published critically acclaimed adult poetry with themes of race, gender and self-development which are all relevant here. The Independent On Sunday featured him amongst their list of the most influential LGBT+ people in the UK. This feels a highly significant work from him which will continue to enhance his reputation. It should feature prominently in YA reading lists. I really enjoyed being drawn into Michael’s world.
The Black Flamingo was published in hardback by Hodder and Stoughton in 2019 and in paperback in March 2020.