Like Vanessa

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Young Adult -

Tami Charles, Charles­bridge Pub­lish­ing (MARCH) Hard­cover $16.99 (288pp), 978-1-58089-777-8

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 her friends and fam­ily help her to see the strong, tal­ented, and beau­ti­ful young woman who she is, young adult au­di­ences may 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.

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