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Like Vanessa Hardcover – March 13, 2018
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—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
♦ Vanessa Williams' 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' semi-autobiographical debut novel. With its 80's "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 backwards 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 so 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.
—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
♦ 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.
—Foreword Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
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.
When Vanessa Williams is crowned the first black Miss America in 1983, her namesake Vanessa Martin is ecstatic. Despite considering herself “too dark” and “too fat” to win a contest, the Newark eighth-grader has always dreams of following in the footsteps of her own beauty-contestant mother, who took off when she was a baby, leaving the family “broken.” (“That was when everything changed…Pop Pop turned to booze, Daddy’s spirit up and died, and we moved to the projects.”) Vanessa gets her chance when her music teacher announces the school’s first-ever beauty pageant. Her emotionally distant father notwithstanding, Vanessa, a talented singer, receives encouragement to participate form her cousin TJ and grandfather Pop Pop. The process proves grueling, as Vanessa struggles to maintain friendships, develop self-confidence, and conform her family’s metaphorical demons. Sprinkled with poetry and motivational phrases from her entries in “Darlene,” as Vanessa names the diary she receives from Pop Pop every year, Charles’s debut novel will appeal to young readers, who will appreciate and empathize with the protagonist’s journey to earn the crown. Vanessa’s failures and triumphs lead both her and readers to realize the meaning of true beauty.
—The Horn Book
Thirteen-year-old Vanessa Martin dreams of two things: winning the Miss America pageant and her absent mother returning and bringing joy back to their family. For now, Nessy's world is one of poverty, substance abuse and seemingly constant struggle. But Vanessa Williams, an African American, has just won the Miss America pageant and Nessy's dream doesn't seem like such a long shot any longer. The historic win gives Nessy hope that "one day girls like me--the blackest of black--could be seen as pretty too." When the school music teacher, Mrs. Walton, announces that King Middle School will be hosting its own pageant, Nessy isn't sure she's up to the task. Nessy's alcoholic grandfather Pop Pop and cousin TJ, a talented fashion design student, join Mrs. Walton's pleas for her to reconsider. Though Nessy's father is firmly against the pageant, Nessy agrees and begins secretly to prepare for the big night. Like Vanessa, Tami Charles's debut novel, delves into the gritty realities of life in poverty-stricken Newark, N.J., in the early 1980s. Nessy is lovable and inspiring, overcoming not just poverty and racism, but her own insecurities. She even grows to see herself as beautiful and "not just the pretty-for-a-dark-skinned-girl comments [she] sometimes gets from the folks at church." Nessy's growth and inner struggles are beautifully highlighted by her own short poems interspersed throughout the book. Charles's writing is engaging and her characters are infused with a subtle depth and resonance that leave deep impressions even with only brief appearances. Complex and heartfelt, Like Vanessa is a truly remarkable coming-of-age tale. Discover: In New Jersey in 1983, 13-year-old African American Vanessa Martin decides to compete in her school's beauty pageant.
Vanessa's amazing voice catches the attention of her passionate music teacher, who convinces the 13-year-old to embrace her talent and enter the school's beauty pagent.
—Booklist, included in the STEAM-Driven Middle-Grade Fiction roundup
About the Author
- Publisher : Charlesbridge (March 13, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1580897770
- ISBN-13 : 978-1580897778
- Reading age : 10 years and up
- Lexile measure : 730L
- Grade level : 5 - 6
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.88 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #223,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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In this book, Vanessa Martin lives with her family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey. The year is 1983. She has a lot of things on her plate. She has a mother but she doesn't remember much about her and has no idea where she is or why she left her since no one will talk about her, her grandfather loves her dearly but is fighting addiction, her father is in and out and barely speaks more than a few words, and she has a lot of self confidence issues. She is obsessed with the Miss America pageant but doesn't believe anyone like her could ever win anyway. As it happens, Vanessa Williams becomes the first black Miss America the same year a brand new teacher at her school decides to put on a beauty pageant! She convinces Vanessa to enter. It's a process but she may just learn quite a bit about herself and others by the time this is over. That's all just one part of this story. There are other stories running in the background as well. They do center, mostly, around Vanessa but there are some heavy hitting topics in this book. I don't want to tell you everything though. You will discover it all when you pick up this book and give it a shot.
This isn't a very long book but it packs a punch. It's great for middle grade readers and older readers alike. It's well written and the characters are somewhat relatable. I guess I should say that there is likely something about at least one of them that you will relate to, personally or in passing, in some way. It's just a good book and a good story.
Fed up with feeling awful about herself and (strongly) nudged by a few people who insist she at least try to see in herself what they see, Vanessa enters in her middle school's very first beauty pageant. This risk pushes her to the edge of both wonderful and terrible things, changing her forever as she takes the leap.
The thing I loved most about this story is how it felt like I was reading an autobiography. I was so in the moment, hearing the inner dialogue, feeling every emotion--good and bad. This is the kind of book we want to get in our middle schooler's hands, into the hands of black girls who don't see themselves on the stages they dream of yet, into the hands of all kids who don't see themselves as the beauties that they are.
The prose is fantastic. The poetry is brilliant. When I finished this book I couldn't wait to get it in the hands of my middle school students and when I did, they loved it just as much as I did. This is the book I wished I had at their age. It's long overdue but I'm glad that it is here. As a young girl I wanted to be Miss America just like Vanessa Williams too, so I know just how Vanessa Martin feels. And after little girls read this book, they'll want to be just like Tami Charles.