Review of The Black Flamingo

The Black Flamingo
by Dean Atta
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    409 pp.    g
5/20    978-0-06-299029-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-299031-0    $9.99

Winner of the 2020 Stonewall Book Award, this British verse novel by a poet and drag performer offers a welcome exploration of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. In first-person narration, Michael chronicles his journey through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Michael is born to a Jamaican father and Greek-Cypriot mother; though his father is distant, he has support from his mother and uncle, as he figures out where he stands in terms of both ethnic identity and sexuality. His penchant for Barbies manifests itself by age six, and crushes on boys follow, but it’s a few years before he comes out to his best friend. And it’s not until university that he experiences his first sexual relationships and also develops his drag persona. (“When it’s time to go onstage, / know that you’re not ready but / this is not about being ready, / it’s not even about being fierce / or fearless, it’s about being free.”) The verse can be pedestrian, largely serving to advance the plot, but the development of the Black Flamingo, as a symbol of Michael’s queer identity (“I often feel / like a bad egg that was not meant to be…somehow / living and thriving”), is aptly woven throughout this memorable YA debut.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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