Chameleon by Charles R. Smith Jr. - Sometimes when I start a book, I go in with reading expectations, based on a few things. Authors previous works, book synopsis, book blurbs and the book cover. When I saw Chameleon I thought it was going to be an okay read, I haven't underestimated a book this bad in a long time. I am partly to blame for this, since I didn't factor in the author previous books like Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali , awarding winning nonfiction doesn't always mean great fiction. The Chameleon cover is a nice enough cover but it doesn't do the book any justice. With a different cover I would've had higher reading expectations.
Set in the 80's, its the summer before four friends freshman year of High School. 14yr old Shawn lives with his mom in Carson. Since Shawn's mom works closer to Compton its, easier for her to drop and pick him up from his aunts, so Shawn hangs out and goes to school in Compton. Shawn spends the summer with his friends Andre, Lorenzo, and Trent. They do what teenagers do, enjoy the summer roaming their neighborhood with no responsibility. Though they do have to be careful, not to wear red or black because of the gangs. After an incident in a park the friends came up with the color check. I believe Chameleon is so good because the author is writing what he knows and does an excellent job. Shawn and his friends come across as the soon to be freshman they're suppose to be. Everything from the yo, mama jokes, to worries about high school, playing basketball, to listening at the door as an older brother is having sex, to jumping a fence to steal pomegranates and of course the small lies Shawn must tell to keep his summer freedom. A dog bites Shawn's sneaker, turning a hi -top into a low top when he was freeing pomegranates from a tree.
"What am I gonna tell Mama? I'll be at Auntie's soon. I got to think of a story. Fast. Let's see I hopped a fence to get our ball and my shoe got caught. Nah. Which fence was I hopping? And why was I hopping it? That won't work. Think Shawn Think. Wait instead of it being an accident maybe I did it on purpose. Mama's always getting on my case because I want the latest fashion and stuff, so what if this is a new style for sneakers? What if I cut them down on my own to be in style? Yeah thats good that could work. "
Though Shawn's parents are divorced he still spends a lot of time with his dad. When Shawn comes home with a black eye from a fight he only tells his mom part of the story but he tells his dad everything. There aren't many young adult novel where Black male teen have male figures to look up to, throughout the book many pass on positive knowledge to Shawn. Not only does Shawn have his dad to tell him about girls,sex, how to give an earn respect and answer his questions about life, he also has the men at the barbershop and his friends older brothers.
Smith writes a great back drop.
"A handful of people were sprinkled throughout the park, including two older men in fedoras playing dominoes on a bench. A little girl with a rainbow of barrettes in her hair squealed in a swing pushed by her father. A honey colored toddler wearing only a sagging diaper around chased by his young mother. A tall, slender man in an all black outfit practiced karate kicks on the green grass beneath one of the larger trees. He reminded me of a black Bruce Lee."
Before the black eye Shawn was suppose to go to High School in Compton, now his parents are going to let him decide Compton or Carson. It's a difficult decision his friends are in Compton and there's Marisol the girl he likes and he's starting to realize she feels the same. However Shawn is tired of the gangs and picking up after his alcoholic aunt. Smith has created a smart and strong character in Shawn, who is more then capable of deciding what high school he will attend.
As I read, Chameleon kept getting better. Smith doesn't try to do anything special and I think that's what makes this so great. It's a very smooth and easy read, that young readers will love. There are many things to love about this novel. Shawn likes to read, his mom works at college so she gets book recommendations from a professor. Shawn talks of enjoying Ellison's Invisible Man. At his Dad's house he spots a recommended title, Malcolm X on the book shelve and picks it up. Shawn shares some of what he learns in the book. I love Shawn's imagination, when he replays the incident in the park that created the color check Shawn becomes the hero. I love that Shawn and his friends have distinct personalities. Even on the basketball court Smith distinguishes between their game. Smith has written a great and well needed coming of age story. I highly recommend Chameleon. Ages 12up