The Black Flamingo follows Michael, a young half-Jamaican half-Greek Cyprian from boyhood to his coming of age in university. Michael struggles with never feeling Black enough, Greek enough, and that being gay is at odds with all these other parts of himself, all while wrestling with a father who never seems to want to see him, and a mother who doesn’t understand that Michael would rather play with Barbie’s then Ninja Turtles. Even with the story seeped in deep questions of identity, there were light moments of family love between Michael and his sister, the power of friendships, and even the sweetness of falling for a guy you never thought would see you in that way, and to have him like you back. Not to mention discovering your tribe—in the university Drag Society for Michael! This was my first verse novel ever, and I admit I was a bit worried going into it—I’ve shied away from verse before as I am not great at connecting with poetry and I had a hard time imagining I could really lose myself in an entire novel written in this format. Oh. My. Goodness. I’m ashamed it took me so long to give this format a try!
I still can’t tell you if the verse, the poetry, is “good” by poetry standards, I just don’t really get that sort of thing. I will say that even with the format I had no trouble following Michael’s story, I always understood the pain he felt, the confusion, or the excitement and acceptance he was given. You can really understand Michael and his longing to find that place where he can be his authentic self, one where his being bi-racial doesn’t make him feel lesser than others, or that him being gay or his growing love for Drag makes him any lesser of a man. Michael starts off as this shy kid, unsure how to express to his mother that he wasn’t kidding about wanting the Barbie, into this fabulous, empowered young man who finds his voice and is able to confront those who break his heart. You can’t help but cheer him on as he uncovers these epiphanies about himself, which makes his Drag performance all the more powerful at the end.
This is going to be a short review because 1. I can’t and won’t dissect the verse itself and 2. With the format, this was such a quick book to get through that really going into any kind of depth on it will feel like a spoiler. I wish there had been a little more resolution with Michael and the shifting family dynamics he experiences, or at least just more done between Michael and his mom. I also wanted to see a bit more of the positive friendships Michael has in his life beyond Daisy—like getting to know more of the people in the Drag Society! Which is why I am giving it 4 stars. But other than that, I thought this book and the story it presents is so important to reminding readers of all ages—but especially young adults—that they are in charge of who they want to be, no one else, and that’s beautiful! I love the message about coming out for yourself not because society says you should, to really celebrate coming out, and to not let anyone take that away from you. It’s a truly beautiful message, and one that’s so important to have in today’s world especially. I cannot recommend this book enough, even outside of Pride month, and you can bet this won’t be my last verse novel, either!
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