Dean Atta

Illustrated by Anshika Khullar

A coming of age story written in verse, Black Flamingo is fresh and energising. As a mixed race gay teenager, Michael feels he never quite fits. Half Cypriot, half Jamaican, he is unconvinced by his mum’s reassurance that he is a ‘full human being’. Bullied at school, Michael leaves for university in Brighton hoping for a new start.  In Fresher’s Week he finds that he doesn’t feel quite Greek, black or queer ‘enough’ to join any societies until he meets Mzz B. 

This is a thoughtful but also flamboyant exploration of identity, trying on different roles and finding what feels comfortable. It is about friendships and self confidence and probes questions about racism, sexuality and trust.  These are all addressed with warmth, maintaining a sense of hope and playfulness throughout.

I read it on a Kindle but wish I had bought the hard copy as it is beautiful book (go for the paperback edition with gold foil) and the layout of the poems definitely doesn’t work as well on the Kindle which affects how you read it and you miss out on the impact of Anshika Khullar’s fantastic illustrations.

Atta is better known as a successful published poet and this was his debut novel.  It won the Stonewall Book Award, and was shortlisted for the CLIP Carnegie Medal (winning the Shadower’s Choice Award judged by readers – a choice backed by my 15 year old).  The reading below gives a good flavour of the book and shows how well it works being performed.