Refreshing urban read about the kids who stay out of gangs.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

At the heart of the book is a character who is a kind and thoughtful young man. There is gang violence and some teen mischief but overall the kids in the book are good kids.


Because there is gang activity all around the teens in this novel, there are several threats of violence and one actual fight between several teens and gang members. One teen is bitten by a dog; there's blood, but he's OK.


Lots of talk about how nice-looking girls are with reference to their attractive body parts. One girl wears very short shorts and the boys remark on how they can almost see the bottom of her butt. Plus teenage crushes that mainly involve shy compliments and invitations to birthday parties.


There is name calling and use of gang names, but surprisingly not much in the way of obscenities.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A woman is talked about being an alcoholic. In one scene she's intoxicated and there are references to bottles and glasses with alcohol in them. Other people drink alcohol and smoke both cigarettes and marijuana.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the story takes place in a tough urban neighborhood where there is always a threat of gang violence. At one point the boys are involved in a big fight with several gang members -- no one is seriously hurt. There are also several incidents of teen-boy banter about girls, mainly revolving around looks and body parts.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Shawn is looking forward to spending the summer before high school hanging out with his friends. He hopes to get a glimpse of his crush Marisol and maybe think of a way to talk to her -- and he hopes to keep out of the way of rival gangs in the neighborhood. Each day before they leave to play basketball or hang out, Shawn and his friends do a \"color check\" to make sure that none of them are wearing any gang colors -- blue or red. Despite their careful planning, run-ins with the gangs happen leaving Shawn to wonder if it's worth staying with his friends and going to high school in gang territory or leaving them and Marisol behind to go to a safer school where he doesn't know anyone.

Is it any good?


CHAMELEON has the lazy, drifty feel of summer where little events are almost barely worth mentioning except that they matter in the life of a 14-year-old. At the heart of this story is Shawn and he's a sweet and thoughtful kid. He struggles with knowing what to say to girls, is wary about the challenges high school holds, and takes good care of his alcoholic aunt when she's supposed to be caring for him.

What is great about Shawn, his friends, and this book is it shows good kids in urban neighborhoods, the ones that have involved parents and are careful not to get involved in the dangerous world around them. They have simple fun, play teenage pranks, and have crushes, just like teens in wealthier, suburban neighborhoods. Most urban novels have a lead character who wants to be good, but is caught in a no-win situation or is living a destitute, hopeless exsistence. So while Chameleon isn't a gripping read in any sense, it sure is refreshing.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about friendship. Shawn's friends played an important part in his decision on where to attend high school. How did Shawn's friends show that they were true friends? What did Shawn do to help his friends out? Why is it important to stand up for your friends?

Book details

Author:Charles R. Smith Jr.
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:September 23, 2008
Number of pages:384
Publisher's recommended age(s):14
Read aloud:14
Read alone:14

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  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byscoobyjack8 June 4, 2012

Terrible! Don't even try!

This book is not worth reading. Basically, nothing happening. It is not 'refreshing' just stupid. It is approx. 600 pages of nothing! Then finally when it seems something interesting might be about to happen, it ends in the most frustrating and cliched way possible. Don't touch it with a barge pole. You HAVE been warned!
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