I am happy to support the author of my recent read, Like Vanessa, written by Tami Charles. Charles is a teacher turned writer, and I was fortunate to see her during an author panel at the JLG Day of Dialog in NYC. Charles’s book is loosely based on her own feelings, experiences and various people in her life that helped her as a pageant contestant.
Vanessa is the main character in this book. She is a tall, heavy-set, African American eighth grader who lives with her grandfather, her gay cousin and her dismissive father. Her father has closed himself away from Vanessa since her mother disappeared when Vanessa was very young. Vanessa’s mom was involved in pageants and Vanessa is enchanted with this life. She is fully supported in her dream to join the pageant occurring at her middle school by her grandfather, her cousin and one of her teachers. The story becomes a bit of a make-over tale as they all work to whip her into shape (physically, emotionally, etc) for the show. Her dad forbids her to join which creates some family conflict, especially when he finds out she’s been involved in everything behind his back.
Through the story Vanessa encounters struggles with her best friend, and also faces mean girls who stoop very low to wreck Vanessa’s chances of participating in the pageant.
This story is about growing up, but mostly, it’s about accepting oneself . While Vanessa feels proud that Vanessa Williams just became the first African-American Miss America, she doesn’t know if America will ever accept someone as dark skinned as she is in this role. She struggles with her appearance through much of the story, but ends the story with love for herself. She also reconciles with her dad and finds out what actually happened to her mom. Vanessa overcame her personal doubts, family issues and other obstacles to fulfill her dream. This should appeal to many teen girls.