Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez

“He’d been sucking dicks for seven months and here he was worried about a juicy steak.” 

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy, unfortunately this was a slow reading month for me, so I was unable to finish it before it’s publication date. 

Synopsis: Norman Alonso, an ex-boxer from Jamaica, moves with his wife to Britain in the 1950s. There, facing an unexpected disease, and rampant racism, Norman and his wife try their best to create a future for their children.  Fast forward to the turn of the millennium, and we meet Jesse. Leaving behind his broken family, his religious Jehovah’s Witness community, and his hometown in the Black Country, Jesse is looking for new start in London, and to find himself. Once in London, he feels just as lost as he did at home. With music playing in his ears, Jesse turns to sex work, and hopes to find a place and a person to call home. 

Review: Yes, I know that quote is explicit, but for me, it sums up a major point of this book, and something that I can relate to very well, reconciling religious beliefs with sexuality. For people who grow up in religious homes, and who spend most of their lives being religiously observant, it is quite the adjustment when transitioning to non-observance, and it comes with a lot of firsts. It also comes with an internal struggle, “if I’m already doing this thing which I know is prohibited, what does it matter if I do this other thing which I know is prohibited?”, “Is what I’m doing less bad if I continue to follow this other rule?”. And to see this portrayed so vividly in a new book, even though it’s from a religion different from my own, does make me feel seen. That’s why this particular quote stood out to me.  

In Rainbow Milk Paul Mendez gives us a raw look at black life and queer black life in the United Kingdom. Between Alonso and Jesse, little has changed in terms of the racism that they both experience. Jesse not only faces racism from white people but also from gay white people. From both perspectives, we can see that Paul Mendez has an amazing range in storytelling using a written Jamaican accent as well as Patois in the dialogue for Alonso’s story, mixing in music lyrics in Jesse’s story, and capturing the difficulties and aggressions that both characters face. I especially enjoyed the structure of Jesse’s story with his memories interspersed with his present story. The flow of the story worked wonderfully having the present and the memories within the same chapter, as opposed to having chapter breaks for the memories. It truly felt like I was experiencing a flashback.  

Rainbow Milk is an intense coming of age story about a man finding his place in the world. 

Read: 6/6/2021 – 6/24/2021 
Release date: June 8th, 2021; Doubleday 
Page count: 318 
Genre: LGBTQ+ 
Audience: Adult 

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