Spunky and headstrong, Cameron blasts music, challenges adults, and cuts class when she feels like it. She lives with her single mom in Brooklyn and hangs out with best friends Amanda, P, and Crystal. Life in their working-class neighborhood is pretty cool until Cameron's mother suddenly loses her job and can no longer afford the rent. Move to public housing? YG2BK! But no one's kidding, and Cameron finds herself living in the projects. Can a white girl from across town hope to be accepted by the black girls in the projects? A revelation from the past forces Cameron to confront a startling truth that just might put things in perspective . . . that is, if Cameron can handle it.
Hilarious, surprising, and defiantly candid, Off-Color is a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining new novel from Janet McDonald. Hip and wise, the author grabs the readers and doesn't let go.
About the Author
JANET MCDONALD (1953-2007) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl and many acclaimed books for teens, including Chill Wind, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and, most recently, Harlem Hustle.
Read an Excerpt
The girl in the mirror shook her tangled dark curls and wiggled her narrow hips, lip-synching into a hairbrush. "Isn't anyone trying to fiiind meee?" she mouthed, grimacing with passion. She tossed aside the improvised microphone to free her hands for a guitar solo. Sweat stained the armpits of her black "Enter at Your Own Risk" T-shirt. Her fingers danced wildly along the imaginary neck of an air guitar. Another sound caught her attention. She stopped for a moment and listened. Her mother's voice. Bummer. Why'd her mom have to hound her every single morning of every single school day? So she'd be a little late, so what. She continued her concert, grabbing the hairbrush just in time for the chorus. "It's a daaamn ... cooold ... niiight!"
The bedroom door banged open.
"Cameron!" Her mother glared at the CD player as if it were at fault for Cameron not responding. "You're a piece ofwork, I know you heard me." Patricia Storm punched the Off button with her thumb.
"Maaa," groaned Cameron, "that's the coolest song ever!"
"And you're gonna be in the tenth grade forever if you don't get going right now. It's already past eight."
"I got cramps. Can I stay home?"
"It's called No."
"But my stomach really hurts."
"Your period was over last week. No."
"Don't maaa me to death." She looked from the brush in her daughter's hand to the hair on her head. "And you need to drag your ... mic ... through that ..."she searched for the right words"mound of tumbleweed. For the life of me, pretty as you are, I don't know why you won't get it permed"
"Maaa ..." interrupted Cameron, cutting short the sentence. But she still heard her mother's usual words in her head anywaylike a civilized girl.
Her mother was gone as abruptly as she'd appeared. Sounds traveled through the thin walls of the one-bedroom house as if through open windows. Cameron sat on her bed, listening. There was the dry, rhythmic sound of hair being brushed, hair her mother wore in a smooth ponytail held at the neck by a silver clip. The scrape of metal chair legs as she sat down at the thrift-store vanity table to paint her lips red and highlight her blue eyes with blue mascara. Cameron'sown blue eyes, said her mother, came from Norwegian grandparents, and her olive skin from the Italian dad she'd never known. Hangers slid and clinked against each other on the metal clothes rack used for a closet. Her mother was choosing a jacket light enough for the springtime weather. Probably the pink and purple one she liked so much, with the white patent leather belt that Cameron hated.
Soon she was at the front door shouting a slew of instructions for her daughter to follow.
"Make sure you eat something, you can't learn on an empty stomach! Take the hamburger meat out of the freezer if you still want chili for dinner! Don't forget to lock all the locks, the new people down the block don't look too kosher! And by the way, that shirt you got on smells a little ripe! Have a good day at school, hon, and get going, it's twenty after!"
The only bedroom in the house was Cameron's. Her mother insisted on sleeping in what was actually a storage space. Cameron had decorated her room with care. Wall posters celebrated rock groups and boy bands. Teen magazine pictures taped on the mirror frame formed a celebrity halo around her reflection. Britney Spears in a sequined bustier with a glittery thong peeking over low-slung hip-huggers. Gwen Stefani pasty in heavy makeup and gangsta-girl baggies. Mariah Carey oozing out of a doll-size pink minidress. Hilary Duff sporting a skull on her metal belt and a "You're So Yesterday" black T-shirt. And top and center like the crowning ornament on a Christmas tree, a punked-out Avril Lavignewith electric guitar, wristbands, sideways cap, sleeveless men's undershirt, and black tie.
Cameron contemplated her hair in the mirror, brushed the sides down, and pushed it all under an FDNY baseball cap. She raised her arm and sniffed her T-shirt. Maybe she had worn it one day too many, she wasn't sure. She sniffed it again. Whatever. Nobody would be getting close enough to notice anyway. She turned the CD player back on, imitated Avril's signature movethrowing up hornsthen brought her three upraised fingers down to an imaginary guitar. With her mother gone, she was no longer limited to mouthing the words, she could sing out loud. And she did, belting out lyrics about confusion and craziness as though she herself had written them. No way was she rushing off to school. Only nerds arrived on time for homeroom roll call.
"Cameron, may I speak to you a moment?" asked Miss Levin with a polite chill in her voice.
"Me?" Cameron had slipped into the classroom through the back door, eased out of her Army surplus jacket, and slithered into the seat next to her friend Amanda.
"No, not youMinnie Mouse. Is there another Cameron in the class?"
Cameron went to the front of the classroom, passing rows of chair desks and snickering students.
At the desk she looked at Miss Paula Levin's shapely red lips, long mascaraed lashes, and slicked-back hair. She rememberedhow excited her mom had been at their first parent-teacher meeting. Not about Cameron's grades, which were below average. What her mother couldn't get over was how much Miss Levin looked like a young version of some singer named Carly Simon.
"You're late. Again."
"I'm really sorry, Miss Levin. I totally ran for the bus which was only a few feetinches, come to think of itfrom the bus stop, and I was pounding on the side of the bus like a maniac but the driver was sooo not opening the doors. It's really his fault that I'm late."
Miss Levin was writing the whole time Cameron was talking and didn't once look up.
"Yesterday it was the rain's fault and the day before it was your ailing mother's fault and the day before that it was God's fault for making you a girl who gets monthly cramps. Take this to Mr. Siciliano at the end of the period. We'll let him figure out who's at fault."
Giggling spread through the room. Cameron took the guidance counselor referral form and returned to her seat. She used to get bugged when kids laughed at her but now she didn't care. That's just what people do: laugh when someone else gets in trouble because they're so glad it's not them. She had grown up with most of them, except for the Russians and the Pakistanis, who were new to the Midwood neighborhood, and a few black kids from some housing project somewhere. Some were nerdy, some were total pains, but most of themwere pretty okay. And then there were the way cool ones like Amanda. Amanda was the most fun of her friends and also numero uno in their class, which could've made her a nerd if not for her being fun. She wanted to be a vet when she grew up. P, who was the greatest dancer, already knew she was going to nursing school. Crazy Crystal, with her squealy voice, swore she'd be some kind of famous something, she just didn't know what. Cameron had no future plans either, so at least she and Crystal were in the same sinking boat.
"Off to see the Godson again, huh?" teased Amanda, as Cameron took her seat. "You know, Cam, you're on your way to becoming a real mafia moll with these daily visits. I bet you're late on purpose just so you"
"Amanda!" yelled the teacher, giving Amanda her famous stern glare. Cameron giggled behind her hand.
At the sound of the bell the class burst into a commotion of scraping chairs and noisy conversation. Cameron set out for her disciplinary meeting. Amanda promised to save her a seat in world history class. Kids greeted Cameron in the hallway. "Hey, Cam, what's up!" "Yo, Camelhump!" "Cam, where're you going, class is this way!"
A student was in with Mr. Siciliano, so she pulled her cell phone from her bag and started playing solitaire. After what seemed like forever, the door opened and out came a scowling boy, followed by the counselor.
"Well, look who's back," said Mr. Siciliano. "Haven't seen you in about ... twenty-four hours."
As the name suggested, Malcolm Siciliano was only half Italian. But that was enough to fuel the students' mafia jokes and earn him the "Godson" nickname.
"Come in, Miss Storm." He shook her hand.
Mr. Siciliano addressed all the students as Mister and Miss. He was the only faculty member who dressed in business suits, starched shirts, and elegant ties. Cameron sat down and repeated her tale about the runaway bus, not a word of it true.
"So what you're saying is that the bus driver refused to open the door, gave you the finger, and deliberately drove away? Frankly, Miss Storm, your story wouldn't persuade even the most gullible of guidance counselors. If we're going to work together you have to be honest with me."
He turned his swivel chair to the desk, opened a file, and began reading.
"Let's see, you're fifteen years old and in the process of digging yourself into a pretty deep hole. Your record is not stellar, my friend. You're often late, you're failing geometry, and you're barely passing language arts."
"And?" She yawned.
"And ... your best grades are in world history, but the teacher notes that she suspects copying."
"Whoa! How could Miss Gallstones"
"Goldstone. Miss Goldstone."
"say that?! Omigod, that is so not right of her, she totally hated me from Day One. She's evil."
"Don't be silly. The teachers don't hate any of our students. It says here that you ace the exam each time you happen to be sitting near Amanda Vine, but otherwise ..."
She sat in silence, biting her nails. Why shouldn't Amanda help her? That's what friends were for.
The counselor placed his glasses on top of the file and swiveled back around. "Enough negativity. You're reading at your grade level and I know you can do the work. Are there other issues? How're things going in generalfriendships, familyeverything okay?"
No, there were no issues. She had three best friends, and she and her mom got on pretty good except for hassles over certain things like clothes and chores and hair.
Friends were important, he said, and every generation thinks it has the best music. He also hated doing chores and to his eye, her hair was fine.
Whatever. Cameron opened her mouth wide and let out a long, fake yawn. "Can I go now? I'm missing class." She licked the blood from her bitten cuticle.
He made her promise to be more punctual and work on raising her grades. They shook hands and she rushed out.
She stood alone in the empty corridor, checked the time on her cell phone. Class was almost half over. She'd seem like a total moron showing up midway. Besides, she was in no mood to see evil Miss Gallstones. She sent Crystal a text message.
"Want 2go AWOL?"
The school had a rule that cell phones had to be turned off in class but everybody just put them on Vibrate and sent text messages back and forth. She hoped Crystal would be able to slip her an answer. After a few minutes, the phone trembled in her palm. Yes! She could always count on Crystal.
No way? What kind of answer was that?
"EM?" replied Cameron. She wanted to say a lot more than excuse me? but hoped she could convince her friend to hang out, go to the mall or the beach. Crystal's response dashed that hope.
"N class. CUL."
Since when did being in class stop Crystal from slipping out a back door? And what was with the see you later blowoff? Cameron's fingers pounded away.
"YG2BKM. PU. CMON. PLS."
She reread her message. You've got to be kidding me. That stinks. The come on, please part sounded pretty pathetic, but she pressed Send anyway and waited near the exit for an answer. Finally, the phone quivered.
"SRY. G2G. LYLAS."
Sorry. Got to go. Love you like a sis. That was it? Whatever. She typed in a message to P, who was cooler than Crystal anyway and would most definitely come through for her.
"P, U there? TMB ASAP"
She'd said "text me back" but the phone lay dead in her hand. P probably didn't even have hers on, which was so lame of her. Bummer, that really sucked. She flipped shut her phone and shoved open the exit door.
Copyright © 2007 by Janet McDonald
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I got it from the library and Im reading it for school. Its good so far, im only on page 34 .