author: Charles R. Smith (author interview)
publisher: Candlewick Press, 2008
main character: Shawn Christopher Williams
I couldn’t have picked up a better book to read as my summer winds down to lasting only a matter of hours. Shawn is in his summer before high school and Smith uses Shawn’s keen awareness to the world around him take us on that voyage into manhood. Vivid colors are everywhere infecting Shawn’s imaginings with splashes from the clear blue sky, fresh ripened fruits, Marisol’s pants, water at the beach and the red and blue clothes he must never wear to remain safe while playing.
The cover is kind of a metaphor for the story, with the title hiding as a Chameleon in the red and blue of the story. It has a nice affect, but I think it led to the book missing its market. Not many books are written by PoC males for PoC YA males, so publishers probably haven’t decided how to design an identifiable cover for this market. They didn’t get it with the hardcover, but I think the paperback comes closer.
Shawn’s days are pretty much filled with playing basketball with his friends. His aunt is supposed to watch him while his mom works but she’s fighting her own demons. Shawn tries to understand her battles, and in doing so he’s trying to grow up. After a particular incident occurs, Shawn has to decide where he’s going to high school. His parents realize he’s not a child anymore and I think they realize he’s more aware of what he has to navigate than they are.
The language and musical references of the book place the story somewhere in the 70s but, the story is really timeless. A young boy growing up looks to older brothers, uncles and fathers for guidance. In Chameleon, Shawn has male characters who are often there to give a word of advice in ways that guys would give it: it’s crude from the big brother and tough as nails from Pops. The book has the feel of being a slice of life, a comfortable book you can just sit back and enjoy.
Charles R. Smith has written numerous books for children, Chameleon is his first young adult novel. Take the time to visit his website and you can see the many books he’s written, listen to him reading some of his poetry, play games or print the Players Pledge. He was born and raised in California and currently lives in Poughkeepsie, NY with his wife and children.
The copy reviewed belongs to my school library.