Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is an AMAZING book for young adult readers.
Book Description from Amazon: 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.
Personal Thoughts: I am beyond excited to share this new book with you today! As an avid reader and well read educator I love getting my hands on young adult books, and this one is AMAZING!!! If I’m being totally honest, I spent an entire Monday night reading this novel from cover to cover because I was so emotionally invested in Vanessa’s journey. It has been a long time since I’ve stayed up half the night reading, and it was a fantastic decision.
The plot in Like Vanessa had two pieces that made it memorable. One piece is it’s a little predictable. About halfway through I got a feeling where Vanessa’s mom was, but the back story was one I did not expect. From an English teacher’s perspective, Charles did a beautiful job leaving some great foreshadowing breadcrumbs about Vanessa’s childhood. Some of them are a little more obvious than others, but in a positive way because it requires readers to think while reading.
The second piece is how the plot includes realistic situations. I’m a Jersey girl, born and raised, so I’m familiar with Newark, the setting of the story. Along with capturing the realities of living in an urban area, Charles hit on so many different experiences that young girls face. Peer pressure, puberty, family problems, friendship struggles, etc., can all be seen through Vanessa’s eyes.
I honestly fell in love with three characters while reading, Mrs. Walton, TJ and Vanessa.
As a teacher, I truly loved how Mrs. Walton, Vanessa’s music teacher, helped shape Vanessa into such a beautiful young woman. I make it my goal to reach one student every year, and to see the relationship between the two blossom reminded me that teaching is more than following a lesson plan. My heart melted when Mrs. Walton took Vanessa shopping because students don’t always realize that teachers are people too.
TJ is by far one of the strongest characters I have encountered in years. His love of fashion and creating works of art give him the strength to follow his dreams, regardless of his sexuality. Without giving too much away, I got choked up at a very scary part and started shaking. I had to put the book down so I could take a deep breath and continue reading.
Vanessa Martin is one of the most beautiful characters I’ve had the privilege to get to know. Nessy has a fabulous personality that shines through the pages of this novel. She is relatable to all girls, regardless of race or class. Her physical and emotional transformation is inspiring and motivating. She reminded me a little of Esperanza from House on Mango Street with her innocence and dreams, and like Esperanza she pushed through her environmental situations to take control of her life. At the end of the novel I wanted to climb inside the pages and give her a hug.
Personally, I recommend this book for grades eight and up because of mature content (references to drugs, alcohol and sex). Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is the best new young adult books that I’ve read since I found City of Bones. I encourage everyone to read this heartwarming story.
For more information on this fabulous novel please check out the following sites:
Tami Charles: https://tamiwrites.com
Publisher’s Website: https://www.charlesbridge.com/