Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Teen Tuesday: Like Vanessa by Tami Charles
Like Vanessa by Tami Charles. 284 p. Charlesbridge Publishing, March, 2018. 9781580897778. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)
Teen Tuesday features Like Vanessa by Tami Charles. On the heels of Vanessa Williams' historic winning of the 1983 Miss America Pageant, thirteen-year-old Nessy confides her own dreams of entering a pageant in Darlene, her diary. But Nessy is realistic, she's big-boned and dark. Besides, her stern and aloof father would never let her. But when her school decides to host a pageant and the new music teacher encourages her to audition, her beloved grandfather, Pop-Pop signs her permission slip and her creative cousin TJ promises to design her wardrobe. Readers will fall in love with Nessy on page one and root for her through the ups and downs of life in Newark, New Jersey as she discovers her strength and learns a family secret or two. This semi-autobiographical novel is the author's debut.
That's what went on the morning announcements and is, by necessity, brief. I just loved this book and can't wait for my students to meet Nessy. She's so interesting and complicated. She's a good student who sees education as her way out of Newark and her neighborhood, which has drugs and gangs; but she's not sure how. Nessy strives to be invisible both at school and at home with her father, who seems angry all the time. She adores, Pop-Pop but worries about his drinking even though he sobers up each weekend to attend church. And she wishes her cousin TJ could be safe enough to be himself. This first-person narrative is achingly beautiful and filled with yearning.
The eighties, pageant preparation and Newark come to vivid life in this remarkable debut. I am looking forward to reading more from Ms. Charles.