Today, it’s a review of a debut novel that I’ve been excited to read for a long time and I loved it… it’s Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez.
I’m very excited to share this review today as I think it’s such a great debut novel and with now more important to support debut authors, I can’t think of a better one than this one. But first… what’s Rainbow Milk all about? Here’s the synopsis:
Rainbow Milk is an intersectional coming-of-age story, following nineteen-year-old Jesse McCarthy as he grapples with his racial and sexual identities against the backdrop of a Jehovah’s Witness upbringing and the legacies of the Windrush generation.
In the Black Country in the 1950s, ex-boxer Norman Alonso is a determined and humble Jamaican who has moved to Britain with his wife to secure a brighter future for themselves and their children. Blighted with unexpected illness and racism, Norman and his family are resilient in the face of such hostilities, but are all too aware that they will need more than just hope to survive.
At the turn of the millennium, Jesse seeks a fresh start in London – escaping from a broken immediate family, a repressive religious community and the desolate, disempowered Black Country – but finds himself at a loss for a new centre of gravity, and turns to sex work to create new notions of love, fatherhood and spirituality.
Rainbow Milk is a bold exploration of race, class, sexuality, freedom and religion across generations, time and cultures. Paul Mendez is a fervent new writer with an original and urgent voice.
Sounds brilliant, right? As I’ve already said, this is a book I’ve had my eye on for a long time and I was so excited to start reading it when my copy arrived. As soon as it came in the post, I immediately started it and couldn’t put it down. There’s so much to unpack from this novel and a lot to love to take from it too. The novel starts with Norman, who has moved to Britain with his wife from Jamaica and this sets up the overall novel well, I think. It, for me, showed the legacy of the Windrush generation and then we follow Jesse, finding his way in the world.
I love the character of Jesse – straight away I felt I knew him, I could see him clearly and there’s nothing better to think about with a main protagonist in a novel. I loved how Mendez created the character of Jesse, there’s so many layers to him and I loved how he explored Jesse’s identity in a number of different ways: his sexuality, his religion, his race, even in his own family. We follow Jesse as he makes his own way to London and escape his family and his religious community and he turns to sex work which raises even more questions about love, connection, family, sexuality, class, and so much more.
Paul Mendez is a beautiful, wise, tender writer who explores big and wide issues but gives them heart. I loved how he wrote sex scenes – a big part of the book, which felt bold, real and not just there for the sake of it, either. I loved how he wrote and constructed his characters – writing in dialect which without it, it wouldn’t be the same book. I loved how rooted in culture the book is too from the music, to the literary legends such as James Baldwin, etc. I also loved how he wrote about London – the writing style reminded me of the lyrical and beautiful Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo which I also adored.
Rainbow Milk is an assured, dazzling debut that encompasses so much: from race, sexuality, religion, family, identity, connection, longing, sex, fatherhood, Windrush, but more importantly: finding your way in the world. This needs to be a TV series/film to bring his glorious queer vision to life. I really loved this novel and I can’t wait to see what Paul Mendez writes next.
Have you read Rainbow Milk? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!