Like Vanessa is a sweet and realistic story of liking yourself, while finding your home, family and who you truly are. Tami Charles bases her character Vanessa on some of her own experiences making this an interesting combination of fact, fiction, history and contemporary issues.
In 1983 Vanessa is a dark-skinned girl living in the inner city. Vanessa, her cousin, her beloved grandfather Pop-Pop and her father live in a small apartment. But they could not be farther apart if they live in a mansion. Ghosts of secrets surround them, Pop-Pops drinking colors their days, choir practice on Saturday and church on Sunday are a must and TJ’s love of fashion and flamboyant manner makes him less than “ideal” for most of his family. But Vanessa loves them. Even if her father is distant and even cruel. All Vanessa wants to do is get through school without being noticed, make it to the beginning of each month when Pop-Pops check comes in for food, deal with her nightmares and fear of water, learn about a mother she has little memory of and maybe become Miss America someday. But no black girl will ever be allowed to win. That is, until a Miss America named Vanessa Williams is crowned and Vanessa’s school holds its own first ever beauty contest.
The world of kids trying to make it in a world that is against them due to lies, nightmares, false friends and gangs all come together. And with the light of the pageant and a special teacher that befriends her, Vanessa might have the one thing she’s never had before: Hope. Hope of getting out of the city and hope she will find the truth behind the secrets her family keeps.
Ages 1o to 12 can read, but due to a few intense scenes, the bullying and mentioning of drugs and gangs, it might not be for the sensitive reader. Therefore, ages 12 to 14 might be a better choice. Especially for the companion novel, Becoming Beatriz. Beatriz is a vital character in Vanessa’s story and I do not recommend reading it before you read Like Vanessa, as it is set in 1984 after Vanessa’s story ends and starting on a particular vital day in Beatriz’s life.