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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

It's 1983 and Vanessa Williams is crowned Miss America. For thirteen-year-old Vanessa Martin this is a great milestone, Vanessa Williams is her number one example. Vanessa wants to be just like her idol and is thrilled women of color finally have a chance to win. To make matters even better, her high school is hosting a beauty pageant. Vanessa doesn't think she'll stand a chance though. She doesn't have beautiful clothes, her father doesn't want his daughter to have anything to do with pageants and her grandfather is supportive, but he's also an alcoholic struggling to stay sober enough to keep the household going. They can barely make ends meet. Vanessa's teacher sees something in her pupil and doesn't give up, she encourages Vanessa to enter until she says yes.

While preparing for the pageant Vanessa makes some life changing discoveries. There's a family secret she's trying to uncover, she learns what friendship really means and that it's all right to let someone be kind to you every once in a while. She also discovers the true meaning of beauty and therefore her confidence is starting to grow. She has a long way to go, but starts to think that maybe signing up for the school's beauty contest hasn't been such a bad idea after all. Is she right and will it bring Vanessa something positive and worthwhile?

Like Vanessa is a fantastic story about self-worth, beauty, family, friendship and opportunities. Vanessa is a sweet girl. She doesn't feel good about herself though. She has a magical voice, but she doesn't like to be in the spotlight, so she never lets herself shine. She hides behind oversized clothes and doesn't know how gorgeous she really is, because she thinks she isn't slim enough and her skin isn't light enough. She tries to be someone she's not before discovering that the person looking at her in the mirror is actually worth getting to know. She's incredibly special, she just has to start recognizing her own capabilities, she's kind and pretty, she writes stunning poetry, she can sing and she's super smart. She has the looks, the voice and the brains, she just has to start believing in them. Every step of her journey is fabulously described and I was eager to find out more about the contest, Vanessa's choices and her ambitions. She has such a lovely bright personality, she's a main character that will always have a place in my heart.

Tami Charles skillfully describes what it's like for Vanessa to deal with family issues, money problems and a lack of self-confidence. Vanessa slowly gets the tools to make some changes in her life. She's a smart girl with plenty of talents and she doesn't see how amazing she is. I kept hoping she'd discover that she's as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside and that she'd find some much deserved happiness. I was rooting for this marvelous girl the entire time I was reading her story. I love how Tami Charles makes her main character come to life and greatly admired both her abilities to show every single layer of Vanessa's character and the personality itself. Like Vanessa is a brilliant book that will stay with me for a long time.


Like Vanessa is meant for the 10 to 14 year age range, but can be read by anyone who loves an incredible story about a wonderful talented young girl finding confidence while discovering the true meaning of beauty.

About Tami Charles

Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, and nonfiction. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, has earned Top 10 spots on the Indies Introduce and Spring Kids' Next lists, along with three starred reviews. Her picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, debuts with Candlewick Press in fall, 2019. She also has more books forthcoming with Capstone and Albert Whitman. Tami is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Fun Facts

* I attended Newark Public Schools, where my mother was a teacher, vice-principal, and eventually principal at our elementary school, Madison Avenue. Talk about TORTURE! (but I survived)

* Four score and seven years ago, I was in an all-girl R&B singing group. We performed on BET, for the Apollo, and had a song on the radio that played at like 2 in the morning when everyone was sleeping. We didn't make it to Hollywood, but those were the times of my life!

Stuff I Love (or...not so much)

* Traveling (looking to add Italy to the list soon)

* Empanadas = life. If you don't like them, we can't be friends.

* I fall in love with anything written by Kwame Alexander, Rita Williams-Garcia, Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Meg Medina. Swoon!!!

* Spiders, Cave Crickets, Raw Onions (destroy them ALL!)


Website // Twitter // Instagram // YouTube


1) Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Newark, NJ and attended schools there. After graduating from college, I became a teacher for 14 years. My real passion, however, has always been writing. I recently made a career change and became a full-time writer. It has been the scariest, yet most rewarding decision of my life.

2) Vanessa Williams is a big inspiration for you, how did you get the idea to write a novel inspired by her victory?

Her victory inspired me to enter my first pageant at the age of thirteen. I knew of the barriers that Vanessa Williams broke to make it possible for girls of color to compete. This was part of the inspiration behind Like Vanessa. Showing a girl who has her own dreams of becoming Miss America, in addition to the fears that come along with pursuing a goal despite the opinions of others, was crucial to the plot.

3) What does true beauty look like for you?

Giving back. Being thankful. Showing love and kindness. To me, that’s true beauty.

4) It’s taken way too long before women of color finally stood a chance to win the Miss America competition, that is progress, but what more can still be done?

We have had a few women of color win Miss America, though clearly not equal to the amount of non-POC women who have won. I would love to see more diversity of body types in pageants. With the recent elimination of the swimsuit competition in Miss America, I believe that we’re well on the way.

5) How did your writing journey start?

I had always written as a young girl, however I didn’t know I could actually be an author. I thought you had to be old and rich, ha! When I started teaching, I thoroughly enjoyed writing stories with (and for) my students. They were the ones who encouraged me to give myself a chance. So, I joined the SCBWI and a critique group. I attended conferences, connected with agents, editors, and authors, and most importantly, I worked on my craft. After years of rejections, I finally landed an agent in 2014 and a book deal in 2015.

6) What do you like the most about writing books for young girls?

What I love most is showing girls that they can be unapologetic about who they are and how they look. Beauty comes in many different shapes and colors.

I think my author interview on YouTube really outlines my goals as an author. You can check it out here.

7) What are your plans for the future? 

I hope to write many more books in my future. While I love writing female protagonists, I have my sights set on switching gears soon. My 8-year-old son is itching to be the main character in one of my books!


Five very lucky readers of With Love for Books will receive a hardcover copy of Like Vanessa by Tami Charles.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. Like Vanessa sounds like a wonderful, inspiring story tackling issues of identity and self-doubt with a great main character that readers will root for.

  2. Looks a great 'sit in the sun and get lost' book!

  3. Great review, and that cover is awesome!

  4. I am looking forward to reading more about Vanessa. She sounds fascinating.

  5. What a great book and with a good message for young women too, well done on taking a chance and following your passion!

  6. Great message for young girls of any colour

  7. This does sound like a wonderful book, especially for a teen, very realistic and I'm sure many can relate! I love the idea of using something from real life, the beauty queen!

  8. An interesting cover for a very interesting book I believe.

  9. I'd love to read this and then pass it on to my students, who are chronically lacking in confidence. It sounds really positive.

  10. Sounds so realistic and just the right book for a teenage girl.

  11. Looks like an interesting book. I love books about family secrets.

  12. This sounds a really interesting book

  13. Sounds an intriguing read of pageants and secrets. Can't wait to see what we find out along the way.

  14. sounds like a great read - thanks for the chance to win

  15. Vanessa Williams was delightful on "Ugly Betty." I suspect she's actually a very nice person!

  16. Thanks for the great prize and competition. Good luck everyone!

  17. This sounds fantastic and fun to read.

  18. Really inspiring story; this is the sort of reading that should be on the school curriculum to help youngsters learn to accept themselves and to show that there's nothing wrong in being 'different'. We each have our part to play.