Mayor’s Book Review: Like Vanessa

Mayor’s Book Review: Like Vanessa

like vanessa

 March 2018

Genre: Realistic Fiction set in 1980s

Age: 10-14 year old readers

Mayor’s two cents: Five stars. I highly recommend this book/ In these current challenging times of our country and world, we ALL need the “We Need Diverse Books” movement now more than ever. This book is a perfect addition to expand the diverse offerings of your home or classroom bookshelf.


Thirteen year-old Vanessa has a secret dream of being Miss America, but she doesn’t look anything like the typical pageant winner.  That is, she’s not white, skinny, or straight haired.  She’s grown up in a motherless home in a poor Newark neighborhood under the care of her distant father, alcoholic grandfather, and fashion forward boy cousin. When she watches Vanessa Williams be crowned as the first black Miss America, she gets a glimmer of hope that her dreams could come true.  Then, the new music teacher – a white lady – at her school in Newark announces their school will host their first ever pageant.  With the support of her new teacher, her family, and her best friend, she embarks on a journey that is full of challenges and new discoveries.

This book tackles poverty, racism, homophobia, puberty, gangs, friendship struggles, bullying, and general ups and downs of being 13 with heart and grace. The characters are dynamic, approachable and relatable to a wide range of readers.

My Favorite Part: 

I loved the character of Vanessa (aka Nessy.) She shares her fears, her dreams, and her talents with such honesty and conviction that I wished she was my friend. Without being didactic, the author gave me a glimpse into the challenging life of a young black girl in the 80s. Nessy works hard at home as she cooks for her family, even at the end of the month when money is short. She studies hard and does well in school, sings in her church choir, and is a loyal friend. Life has not been handed to her on a silver platter, but she doesn’t complain or wallow in her situation.  She has an inner strength and humility that blossom throughout the book.  Her relationship with the new music teacher, Mrs. Walton, is full of surprises and I appreciated her cautious approach to sharing too much with this new adult in her life.

Who Should Read This Book:  

Young people who like realistic fiction with great characters that open you up to a slice of someone’s life and draws you into their world will love this book.  This is an important book that can serve as a wonderful “window” or a “mirror” book for different readers. It is set in the 80s, so it’s a great look into the trends and mentality of life at that time and place (e.g. how homosexuality was viewed or the impact of gang life on a community) as well as a look into the joys and hardships of a working class, black family living in a mixed race community.

About the Author: Tami Charles

Recovering teacher. Wannabe chef. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts in spring, 2018.

She attended Newark Public Schools, where her mother was a teacher, vice-principal, and principal at our elementary school, Madison Avenue. She was also in an all-girl R&B singing group that performed on BET, for the Apollo, and had a song on the radio that played at 2 in the morning when everyone was sleeping!

Learn more about Tami Charles here.

Check out more about Like Vanessa on Bookopolis here.


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