Like Vanessa

Tami Charles

Book - 2018

It is 1983 and Vanessa Martin, a thirteen-year-old African American girl in Newark's public housing, dreams of following in the footsteps of the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams; but with a dysfunctional family (mother in jail, father withdrawn, drunken grandfather, gay cousin) the odds are against her--until a new teacher at school organizes a beauty pageant and encourages Vanessa to enter.

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Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Vanessa William's 1983 win as the first black Miss America doesn't make the crown feel much closer to 13-year-old Vanessa Martin. Being raised in rundown Newark, New Jersey, young Vanessa feels too unpretty to even consider entering her school's beauty pageant, despite her amazing singing voice. Only at the urging of her new music teacher, who happens to be in charge of the pageant, does Vanessa finally agree to participate, facing many challenges in the process. There is something retro in the execution and sincerity of Charles' semiautobiographical debut novel. With its '80s "inner-city" setting and young black protagonist, guided to a better sense of self by a do-gooder white teacher, the story only needs to seat its characters backward on school chairs to check all this genre's boxes. However, Charles evades the clichés and imbues Vanessa with an inner life that's so real and personal it's hard to deny the charm, heartbreak, and triumph of her story. Additionally, the protagonist has a fractured and flawed, but loving, family at her back, which acts as a bulwark against her insecurities and drives the narrative to its hopeful, graceful conclusion. Best of all is that, with some support, Vanessa ultimately finds strength in herself and goes on to be the greatest architect of her dreams. Superb. Grades 5-8. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Watching TV in the Newark, N.J., apartment she shares with her loving grandfather, big-hearted gay cousin, and reclusive father, Vanessa Martin feels "the tiniest piece of hope" as Vanessa Williams is crowned Miss America in 1983. Though Williams is lighter-skinned than she, the 13-year-old reasons that the pageant winner's victory "means that one day girls like me—the blackest of black—could be seen as pretty too." Throughout the course of Charles's sinuous novel, Vanessa reveals other deep-seated hopes: that she finds her mother, who disappeared years before, and that her father, who is "locked away in his chamber of inner demons," will also reemerge. When her insightful and supportive teacher encourages Vanessa, an honors student who sings magnificently, to enter the school pageant, she agrees, despite her self-doubt and classmates' jeers. Vanessa's honest, at times sardonic narrative—supplemented by poems and journal entries—tracks her burgeoning maturity as she discovers the essence of authentic friendship, comes to terms with family secrets, and gains the confidence to stay true to her vision. Loosely autobiographical, Charles's debut novel dexterously interlaces pathos and humor and introduces a refreshing new voice. Ages 10-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

It is 1983 and Vanessa Martin, a thirteen-year-old African American girl in Newark's public housing, dreams of following in the footsteps of the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams; but the odds are against her until a new teacher at school organizes a beauty pageant and encourages Vanessa to enter.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Vanessa Martin dreams of following in the footsteps of the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, but the odds are against her until a new teacher at school organizes a beauty pageant and encourages Vanessa to enter.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Middle graders will laugh and cry with thirteen-year-old Vanessa Martin as she tries to be like Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America.In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin's real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with a mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence. But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa's view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn't need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty."It's such an honor to be the focal point of this wonderful book! Without a doubt, it will be inspiring to a new generation of young, talented girls well on their way to promising careers."   --Vanessa Williams, Multi-Platinum Recording Artist, New York Times Best-Selling Author, Fashion Designer and star of Television, Film and the Broadway Stage"Like Vanessa has it all and then some!  Gritty, poetic, emotionally true, Tami Charles wrings out every hope, every stumble and every triumph of a girl on an uneasy road to possessing  her self, her strength and her own beauty. An unforgettable debut." --Rita Williams-Garcia, author of One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven♦ "This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances."— Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW♦ "Charles evades the clichés and imbues Vanessa with an inner life that's so real and personal it's hard to deny the charm, heartbreak, and triumph of her story. . . . Superb."— Booklist STARRED REVIEW♦ "Like Vanessa is an emotionally potent, engaging young adult story with a heroine whom it is impossible not to root for. The life lessons that Nessy learns are relevant and worthwhile for everyone."— Foreword Reviews STARRED REVIEW