Rainbow Milk: a book review

So, where you from?


I mean where you were from originally?

Still London.

I mean where your parents from?

Why do people still do that?

That’s what this book is about; well, no; it’s about a lot more than that. It’s one of those books which’ll give you something, depending on who you are, and the kind of life you’ve had, I suppose.

It’s the story of a fella called Jesse, who leaves his family and the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the West Midlands, and ends up working as a gay prostitute in London.

On his journey, which begins as a teenager in the sticky throes of sexual awakening, and ends with discovery and salvation, Jesse meets discards and is abandoned by a cast of characters who are so well-drawn you can almost hear them breath. His hideous mother is a rare literary treat, and his step-father, who I’m still quite ambivalent about, is a man who has the kind of problems you’d expect for a white man who’s taken on a black son in a country that is on the verge of losing the tolerance it was once renowned for. As Mendez recounts memories of being constantly asked Where you from?, and other examples of casual and not-so-casual racism (the scene where a mate of his step-father washing a mug Jesse had used as though he’d been sick in it was pure genius – not just because of the writing, but because stuff like this happens so often during the course of your life that it sort of just fades into background. But here it was, so of course it wasn’t just me).

Jesse is also gay, which is the second whammy, though this doesn’t seem to cause him quite as many problems, and aside from worrying about finding someone to look after him, doesn’t seem to cause him so many problems. He seems to revel in it, in his early years, but as he matures, he realises that perhaps his lifestyle is something he uses to shield himself from a disconnection from his church, and his missing father (his real father). Well, that was my take on it anyway.

Rainbow Milk is an extraordinary book; Jesse’s story is beautifully, almost poetically told. I’m not surprised I enjoyed it as the style and gritty nature of it was very similar to Bernadine Evaristo – Mmm, no it was a lot grittier than that: the sex scenes are explicit and uncompromising if you’ve seen Blue is the Warmest Colour then I’m sure you cope), but in my opinion, vital to the realism the book is aiming for.

I’ve decided; his step-dad’s a real prick.

Eight out of ten.

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