By: Tami Charles
"And in that moment I believe what they say could be true for me. That I could be like Vanessa Williams."
In this semi-autobiographical debut novel, thirteen-year-old Vanessa Martin watches as the first black Miss America is crowned. It's 1983 in Newark, New Jersey, and Vanessa's life is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with family, friendships, racism, and self-confidence. When a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and asks Vanessa to enter, Vanessa decides there's no way. But with help from Pop Pop and her cousin TJ, Vanessa prepares for the challenge. Add in the neighborhood mean girl, a mysterious envelope addressed to Vanessa, and trying to make monthly ends meet, and eighth-grade is as stressful as it gets.
Author Bio:Tami Charles, author
Tami Charles is a former elementary school teacher who now writes full-time. She lives in Central New Jersey.
Read more about Tami here.
Awards & Honors:
2017 Indie's Introduce Selection
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
In pursuit of her dreams, Vanessa becomes an unlikely contestant in her middle school's first-ever pageant. African-American eighth-grader Vanessa Martin is glued to the TV when Vanessa Williams is crowned the first black Miss America in 1983. Inspired, Vanessa imagines her own dreams coming true. Maybe she can rise above her painful family problems and dissatisfaction with her dark skin. Maybe she can escape her gang- and drug-plagued neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. But when the new music teacher, Mrs. Walton, who is white, encourages Vanessa to audition for the school's first-ever pageant, she declines. She has an extraordinary singing voice but lacks the confidence to compete. When Mrs. Walton, Vanessa's grandpa Pop Pop, and her cousin TJ join forces to get her to try out, she must face her fears—and the neighborhood mean girl—to have a shot at realizing her dreams. Vanessa's compelling story unfolds through a combination of first-person narrative, diary entries, and well-crafted poems that perfectly capture the teen voice and perspective. From the first page, readers are drawn into Vanessa's world, a place of poverty, abandonment, and secrets—and abiding love and care. The soundscape of early rap music helps bring the '80s to life and amplifies Vanessa's concerns about racism, friendship, family, and her future. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will cheer Vanessa on and see themselves in her story. This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances.
From the very first page, Like Vanessa conveys the hopes and fears of a girl who wishes for a different life. Nessy Martin is fourteen years old and living in Newark with her alcoholic grandfather, her mostly absent father, and her older cousin. Her mother left when she was just four years old, and Nessy has never understood why. The book takes place in the 1980s, just as Vanessa Williams becomes the first black woman to be crowned Miss America. Nessy dreams of being crowned herself, hoping that she can somehow win her mother’s approval. Though it scares her, she is convinced to enter a beauty pageant at her middle school, and in the process of preparing for the competition, she learns a great deal about herself and about the meaning of true beauty. Nessy’s descriptions of the local gang, the bodegas, and the music she hears drifting into her window at night bring her urban setting to life. Her understandings of her family members—a grandfather trying to forget, a cousin struggling with the safety of his differences—paint vivid portraits. Nessy’s desires and dreams of wealth and glamour are relatable, as is her lack of self-esteem. As, for the first time, her friends and family help her see the strong, talented, and beautiful young woman that she is, young adult audiences may be helped to similarly embrace how they, too, are worthwhile. 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.
ISBN: 978-1-63289-607-0 EPUB
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.
Ages: 10 and up
Page count: 288
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 5. Standards 1-6, 10
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 6. Standards 1-6, 10