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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Category is Feathers Galore: A Review of The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

Listen, I’m going to cut right to the chase, no intro today. I read The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Now let me tell ya, this book slaps; like if you haven’t read it, then you should do so because it is amazing. But I am a cis, white girl; I will never be able to do this book justice. The main character’s experiences are extremely different from what I will ever experience in my lifetime.

With that in mind, this review is based on what I was able to take away from this book. You may have a different take away from The Black Flamingo; you likely will. That’s the great thing about books. Not everyone is going to view a piece of literature the same way.

Book cover of The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta.

Now, I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, books are truly how I learn about the world and what other people face in their lives. The Black Flamingo has indeed helped me to expand my worldview, but I am definitely missing some of the points Atta presents in the novel.

Now let's move onto that beautiful, beautiful novel!

The Black Flamingo follows Michael, a mixed-race, gay boy as he grows up and goes to college. Throughout his young life, he has never felt black enough to fit in with the Jamaican side of his family, and he has never felt Greek enough to fit in with the Greek Cypriot side of his family. Needless to say, he feels as if he’ll never fit in anywhere.

Like I said, Michael is also gay. He comes out in middle school, and he really feels like he’ll never fit in after doing so. He proceeds to get bullied throughout the majority of middle school and high school. Even his closest friend says some homophobic things to him prior to graduation. Nothing is falling in place for this boy.

Tigger and Eeyore hugging.
My heart bleeds for Michael, I just want to give him a big hug.

College is a most welcome sight for our POV character. He’s away from everyone he used to know. He doesn’t have to deal with homophobic bullies. He’s ready to make new friends, and find a place where he belongs. But upon entering university, he still doesn’t feel like he fits in. He doesn’t fit in at the Black Students Union nor at the Greek Students Union due to feeling as if he isn’t black or Greek enough. It’s not until he sees a poster for the university’s Drag Society does he see himself fitting in somewhere.

RuPaul saying "the time has come."
He has a place where he feels comfortable and can just be himself! I'm so happy for him!

This book is a beautiful coming-of-age story. I don’t know one person I went to college with who didn’t have a breakdown about figuring out what they wanted to do with their life or where they belonged in society. Even though Michael’s experiences are far from my own, the identity theme resonated with me.

"Raise your hand if you've ever felt personally victimized by Regina George."
Raise your hand if you still don’t know what you’re doing with your life.

I too struggled with the idea of who I was all throughout high school; even in college I struggled with my identity. Michael’s identity crisis certainly ran deeper than mine, but this central theme runs even deeper. Anyone regardless of race, gender, or sexuality can relate and empathize with the main character on some level.

What I love most about this central theme is that Michael comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t have to label himself in order to have an identity or be happy with himself. Sure, he is black, and gay, and he does drag; but he doesn’t rely on those labels to define himself. He’s simply Michael, and that’s good enough for him.

I love the message of this book. It’s what I needed in my life at this current moment in time. You are you! You don’t need to label yourself to fit in! Being you is more than enough! Having a place where you feel comfortable and welcome in is enough! Having friends who love you for your personality is enough!

Seriously, this book made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside by the end.

This central theme should be enough to get you to read this book if you haven’t already, but if you need more convincing here ya go.

The Black Flamingo is not a novel in the traditional sense. It certainly makes the page count, but instead of being written in the traditional prose it’s written in this lively, poetic form.

Michael is a poet and spoken word performer. That detail ties in so well with the way this book is written. The words are lyrical, magical, and just form an absolutely marvelous, poetic tale of love, hate, and identity. It stands out from all the other coming-of-age novels in the best way possible. Listen, I am not one for poetry, but I just want to hug this book and never let it go. These words that Atta wrote create a thing unparalleled beauty.

Lady Gaga meme that says "talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping."

If you’re looking for beauty on more of a surface level, look no further than the book’s cover. The book jacket and cover art, created by Jenna Syempel-Lobell and Adriana Bellet respectively, are just as gorgeous as Atta’s writing. But I am just obsessed with the flamingo print of the cover.

Book cover for The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta.
Appreciate this cover again!

I’m sorry, I’m about to go off on an unnecessary tangent that really has nothing to do with this book, but the following is a massive pet peeve of mine. And ya know, I bet there are others out there who hate the following as well.

Mariah Carey saying "...sorry."
Actually no, I'm not sorry.

I am so tired of book covers being black. The pores on my fingers end up getting the black dye in them, and it just irritates the crap out of me. I read a lot of horror and books that have a darker vibe to them, and a lot of these books have darker covers. The dye that’s used on the covers always ends up transferring onto my fingers, and I hate it so, so, so much! I don’t want to have dye stuck to my fingers and transfer it onto my bed sheets or clothing. That’s nasty.

I was worried that because the book jacket had a black background, that the cover was going to be black as well. But no, it’s not! Instead I took the jacket off to reveal this beautiful, glossy, hot pink cover covered in line art flamingos!

I have nothing funny to say so please appreciate these flamingos.

One: I just love line art; it’s so aesthetically pleasing to me. I love the minimalist style it conveys. Two: the flamingos are just so dang cute! I just rearranged and styled my room to make room for new work space. Now I want to redo the whole thing again to accompany a hot pink flamingo wall that does not go with anything in my room.

The aesthetic of this book is a 10-out-10. Applause for the creative team behind this book’s cover design; it’s really eye catching and really helps to sell the book.

Standing ovation.
They deserve a standing ovation.

My weird tangent is over now; I’m sorry I put you through that. I now return you to your regularly scheduled book review.

There really isn’t anything in this book that jumped out at me as an issue. I’ve said this many times already in this review, but this book is marvelous! It is a work of art! I could end this review right here if I wanted. I mean, this book could be considered a thing of pure perfection. For me though, there is only one thing in The Black Flamingo that I didn’t like, only one thing I could do without, and it is one conversation right at the end.

Finally, a spoiler alert is in order for this post.

Right at the end, Michael does his first drag show. He has invited a group of his friends and a few acquaintances to attend. One of the people who comes is the guy, Jack, that he lost his virginity to.

After Michael’s absolute triumph of a performance, Jack asks him if the two of them can have a quick, private chat. Sadly, this chat is more of a confrontation than a nice chat between friends. In short, this confrontation is basically Jack showing to readers just how closeted he is and how scared he is of his true self because of how unaccepting society can be.

Before this confrontation is revealed though, Michael imagines a better conversation for the two to have. This imagined conversation is a lot of wishful thinking on Michael’s part about how no one should be afraid to live as their truest self like he is now instead of hiding behind a mask like Jack is.

I understand the importance of including both the real and imagined conversation. It’s the ideal situation versus a harsh reality. No one should have to hide who they are due to what others believe, and the fake monologue Jack gives is pretty heart-wrenching given the unaccepting position Atta implies he’s in. But I think the real conversation these two have is just as effective on its own.

Michael is finally comfortable with who he is; after all these years he feels as if he fits in some place, a place where he is simply himself while Jack is still scared and fighting who he truly is. It feels almost unnecessary to include both conversations since the root of the conversations relatively state the same thing; just with hope or fear as the driving force behind the words. Even if the fake conversation is just wishful thinking on Michael’s part, it feels odd to include it when everything else in the book is grounded in reality.

Perhaps this is where the fact that I’m a straight woman comes in. Perhaps those in the LGBTQIA+ community have a different view point regarding these conversations. I could be totally missing the true point of both conversations, but I just feel like the inclusion of both conversations feels repetitive. If you view this section of the novel differently, please let me know. I’m curious to how others view this part.

Wiener dog with question marks over its head.
Seriously, let me know. Let's have a discussion.

I highly recommend you read this book if you haven’t done so. I think it’s a great addition to the bookshelves of YA fans or those just looking to expand their worldview. This is another book I regret waiting so long to read because it should have been on my Best of 2020 list too.

Next week it’ll be the first week of March. Next week’s post will be a little different. It has been awhile since I posted something fun and a little goofy. Until next time, I bid you all farewell. Stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and enjoy some books for me, BookNerds

Ducks wearing masks.
Bye all!

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