Fri-YAy – The Black Flamingo

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Whether or not this becomes any kind of regular thing depends both on

a) me reading some more YA like I keep saying I will

and

b) me posting anything on time or with any degree of reliability

There’s a double post today, with both this one and Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal, and after that I’d like this to be a fortnightly or, maybe more realistically, monthly post to review my YA reads.

The two books I’m kicking off with though are both brilliant ‘coming-of-age’ tales of finding out who you are and becoming comfortable with yourself.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, artwork by Anshika Khullar

I’m such a huge fan of Sarah Crossan’s novels in verse and really enjoyed Meg Grehan’s The Deepest Breath too, so I was really pleased to find a new YA verse novel, this time from Dean Atta (If anyone has any other verse novel recommendations I would love to hear them!)

The Black Flamingo is Michael’s story, told in the form of narrative style poems, illustrated effectively throughout and with gorgeous feathery pages at the start of each chapter. I know I’ve said it before but don’t let the verse put you off, especially in this case. More like carefully selected, carved and crafted prose than your typical idea of ‘poetry’ might be, this is immensely readable.

We follow Michael through the book as he grows up – from a young child coveting Barbies, being guest of honour at the girls’ sleepovers and playing “husband and wife” with the boys…to a teenager lacking in confidence, befriending “the misfit” and discovering his sexuality…to a student away from home for the first time and finding his people, his place, his voice…himself.

The book is universally relatable in many ways – family dynamics and the effects our family relationships can have on us, both positive and negative; the uncertainty, confusion and constant navel-gazing of teenage years; friendships, fallings out, first crushes, fitting in (or not) and those first steps away from home.

It certainly spoke to me and brought back many experiences and emotions from when I was growing up (and as a white, heterosexual woman in her thirties I am definitely not its target audience!)

But, it’s clear that for some, this book will be so much more than that – a beacon of hope, bringing with it reassurance and a message of strength, unity and positivity.

Michael deals with homophobia and racism – in upfront, deliberate ways, but more often (and as I suspect is more commonly the case in reality) in latent, almost unintentional, ingrained and learned ways – as well as old-fashioned, unhelpful and stereotypical views of gender, yet he finds his way through this and gains self confidence and belief.

I loved the way drag (along with friendship and learning from his mistakes) was in the end what helped Michael find his confidence and his voice and, in more ways than one, his identity. I really liked the way we saw drag explained, given depth and taken seriously as a performance too.

With themes of ethnicity, sexuality and gender as well as family and friendships addressed believably, powerfully and with a great deal of insight, sensitivity and warmth this is a must-read for so many young readers (and older ones like me will find plenty to enjoy, relate to and feel about this too). I loved this and can’t wait to read more from Dean Atta.

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