Off-Color

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Off-Color Book Poster Image
Mixed-race teen thoughtfully dissects race issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Cameron and her friends share controversial opinions about race, but in the end, the message is about accepting yourself -- and finding good in everyone. Cameron does skip school, text her friends in class, and ends up talking to the principal a lot.

Violence

Girls threaten to beat up Cameron and her friends at the mall. When Cameron moves to the projects, she and her mother are afraid of violence. Also, Cameron is approached by a creepy man at the beach who is later arrested for "endangering the welfare" of two girls.

Sex

Cameron kisses her boyfriend. One of her best friends talks about being "in lust." At a party, guys and girls do some "booty-dancing."

Language

Lots of slang words like "wassup," "frickin'," and "ain't."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man offers Cameron a beer. Girls later talk about drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book centers on a girl who discovers she is half African-American. There is some frank talk about race throughout as Cameron learns to accept her new identity. Other than that, this book is pretty tame, though Cameron does skip school, texts her friends in class, and ends up talking to the principal a lot. When Cameron moves to the projects, she and her mother are afraid of violence -- but there isn't much in the book beyond girls threatening to beat up Cameron and her friends at the mall. Also, Cameron is approached by a creepy man at the beach who is later arrested for "endangering the welfare" of two girls.

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What's the story?

Two important things happen to Cameron on the brink of her 16th birthday: First, after her mother loses her jobs, they are forced to move to projects in Brooklyn. Then, while unpacking, Cameron discovers that the father she has never known is actually African American.

Living in new surroundings -- and with a new identity -- Cameron feels very confused. But her spirit (and supportive friends, including new friends from the projects) help her learn to be more open-minded about race -- both when dealing with other people, and herself.

Is it any good?

The plot may not always be in focus, but the vibrant dialogue and characters make this a quick and engaging read. Readers will find it easy to root for spirited Cameron, who is not a typical teen book heroine: She is doing poorly in school, skips classes, and talks back to teachers (though she is still loving with her friends, and, mostly, her mom). In the end, though, readers will be most impressed with the frank and honest conversations about race. Early in the book, Cameron tells her friend it's easier for a white girl to date a white guy; later, after she learns she is half African-American, another friend argues that "real black people aren't gonna think you're black, so why try to be something you're not?"

Classroom discussions about Othello and Malcolm X -- as well as references throughout to mixed-race celebrities like Halle Berry and Mariah Carey -- solidify that this book is just as much about getting teens to think and talk about race as it is a coming-of-age story about a Brooklyn girl learning to accept herself. But, really, that's enough to make it a worthwhile read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about any of the racial issues brought up in this book. Are there taboos in your school about mixed-race dating? Do people who look black get treated differently by police or other people in our society?

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