Release Date: August 6, 2019
If you’re happy in the closet for the time being, play dress-up until you find the right outfit.Dean Atta, The Black Flamingo
Note: This book has made my favourites list!
So recently I enrolled in a “Special Topics” Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies class which is all about looking at LGBTQ+ YA Literature. If you read this blog, you probably know that I read mostly YA literature, so this was a class that I absolutely needed to enrol in. It is a reading intensive course, and the most recent read was Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo, which is by far the best book I’ve read in 2021 so far.
The format of the book is in the style of verse, rather than prose, which come together to make a story. I thought I might have some difficulty getting into this book because I’m not one to usually go for books that are set up like that, but this was clearly an exception. This style made this quite a quick read, and yet I didn’t feel like it ended unfinished or abruptly; I thought it was genuinely so well constructed, and the style was just as easy to read as a standard novel.
Some General Thoughts
This book had me immersed from the first page, and I got quite emotional at various points in the story – it is truly difficult to put into words how important this book is. Dean Atta is such a beautiful and honest writer, and some lines in particular are extremely thought-provoking and deep. Each poem and prose is going to affect readers differently, and I think this is something that everyone needs to read. It deals with quite a lot, such as toxic masculinity, internalized racism and racism, and internalized homophobia and homophobia, fetishization, growing up, going to University, intersectionality, and more.
Intersectionality in YA Literature
Don’t let anyone tell you that you are half anything…Don’t let anyone tell you that you are half black and half white. Half Cypriot and half Jamaican. You are a full human being. It’s never as simple as being half and half.Page 34
In my class, while we learned that YA literature often does have quite a lot of representation of LGBTQ+ characters, it is rare that they are also BIPOC. The Black Flamingo focuses quite a lot on the intersectionality of Michael, who is Black, Greek Cypriot, and queer. When first going to college, Michael really struggles with his identity and with a lack of sense of belonging, feeling like he doesn’t quite fit in with his Greek peers or his Black peers, or even his peers in the LGBTQ+ community. However, the above quote, as said by his mother, is really important to this story as it is something that Michael constantly struggles with.
He also doesn’t quite fit in with either side of his family, aside from his mom and his sister, but even with them, he is called out by his friends for not being “full” siblings with his sister, a thought that didn’t earlier occur to him – she is just his sister.
Near the beginning of the book, Michael mentions how he wants a Barbie for his birthday. However, he ends up receiving it for Christmas because his mom doesn’t take his request seriously. When he finally receives it, it isn’t the exact Barbie he wants, but he cares for her anyways. Then it comes time for Michael to visit his dad’s side of the family for the holidays, and his mom asks him to leave the Barbie at home, saying she needs the doll’s help cleaning up. Michael’s relationship with his father is quite complicated, hence why his mother tells him not to bring the Barbie. Later on in the book, his dad also avoids speaking to him on the phone.
While he doesn’t seem to question his mother’s request that he leave the Barbie at home, I think it becomes clear to Michael at a young age what people will judge him for being a boy who likes dolls. This is reinforced when he notices that when his sister receives his old things – the Barbie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, overalls – no one questions what she decides to play with or wear.
As for his mother’s side of the family, Michael finally visits his mom’s side of the family on vacation, and he notices quite a lot of differences with them as well. His mom’s parents also seem to make subtle remarks about the children being Black.
The Black Flamingo
Where Michael finally finds a place is within his school’s drag community, where he becomes “The Black Flamingo”, and he talks about what it’s like being a Black drag artist, and how that’s a completely different situation. As The Black Flamingo, a whole other carefree and confident side of Michael comes out, and he is funny and outspoken and gives such a wonderful performance, which was definitely my most favourite moment in the book.
This book is not just something you should read, it is something you need to read. Not only is it an entertaining and heartfelt read, but it’s also very informative. Please read this!