Chocolate Star by Sheila Copeland
(St. Martin's Paperbacks, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-312-96729-2
**
Chocolate Star is Los Angeles-based writer Sheila Copeland's first novel. It is the story of "Hollywood's chocolate stars the rich and famous of black Hollywood who sing, act, dribble, produce, and direct their way to the top..." Chocolate Star is also a torn-from-the-tabloids story about those who exploit, drug, lie, cheat, steal and screw their way through life. It is the story of professional basketball player Sean "Sylk" Ross, producer-director Gunther Lawrence and model-turned singer Topaz Black.

Sean Ross is from a close-knit Philadelphia family. He is a star player at the University of Pennsylvania who is hoping to go high in the NBA draft. He's a good student, a senior majoring in business, with a 3.5 GPA. He is engaged to his high school sweetheart. His relationship with his minister-father keeps him spiritually grounded. It is when he strays from his support systems that his life goes into a tailspin.

Gunther Lawrence grew up in Los Angeles. His parents, partners in a successful architectural and construction firm, divorced when he was five. They divided the family as unemotionally as they divided the partnership. Dad got the boys; Mom took the girls. Gunther, the nerd, the family outcast, is consumed with self-hatred and has turned his back on his culture. "He wasn't a brother. He was a white boy with a black body," explains one character.

And then, there's Topaz Black of Baltimore. Topaz is the daughter of a social climbing single mother and a prominent lawyer-father she's never met. At an early age she was taught to capitalize on her looks to get what she wants. At 19, she marries an up-and-coming medical student from a family of doctors.

She gives birth to a son, stays around long enough to name him and moves on to Los Angeles to launch her singing career six weeks later. Her son, Chris, can only chronicle his mother's life on television. "Chris has seen you on television. Your mother gave him your CD and video for Christmas last year and told him you were his mother..." He later learns of her upcoming marriage on Entertainment Tonight.

When one of her husbands dies, Topaz "can't deal with" making funeral arrangements, but has no problems making a dinner date with her late husband's prep school roommate after the service.

Chocolate Star is filled with some of the most shallow characters I've encountered in one place in a very long time. Gunther is envious of whites and Topaz resents those with money and status. Their entourage is mixed bag of like-minded people. The novel is written in an alternating chapter style. Sean, Gunther and Topaz's stories are told approximately every third chapter until their lives merge, or perhaps, collide is a better term.

Did I like anything about this book? Yes. The Sean Ross storyline is fresher than the other two. It wasn't the stereotypical jock-in-the-fast-lane story. He's presented as a human, well-rounded character. The book's only true romance which is sweet and well-written is part of Sean's story.

Chocolate Star has a certain amount of pop culture appeal. It has been reissued in paperback after a moderately successful hardcover run and selection by two major book clubs. The cover blurb says: "If you like Jackie Collins, then you'll love this one." I don't and I didn't.

But, if you're into "Scarlett O'Hara in the Valley of the Dolls," be sure to pick up Chocolate Star.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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