In pursuit of her dreams, Vanessa becomes an unlikely contestant in her middle school’s first-ever pageant.
African-American eighth-grader Vanessa Martin is glued to the TV when Vanessa Williams is crowned the first black Miss America in 1983. Inspired, Vanessa imagines her own dreams coming true. Maybe she can rise above her painful family problems and dissatisfaction with her dark skin. Maybe she can escape her gang- and drug-plagued neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. But when the new music teacher, Mrs. Walton, who is white, encourages Vanessa to audition for the school’s first-ever pageant, she declines. She has an extraordinary singing voice but lacks the confidence to compete. When Mrs. Walton, Vanessa’s grandpa Pop Pop, and her cousin TJ join forces to get her to try out, she must face her fears—and the neighborhood mean girl—to have a shot at realizing her dreams. Vanessa’s compelling story unfolds through a combination of first-person narrative, diary entries, and well-crafted poems that perfectly capture the teen voice and perspective. From the first page, readers are drawn into Vanessa’s world, a place of poverty, abandonment, and secrets—and abiding love and care. The soundscape of early rap music helps bring the ’80s to life and amplifies Vanessa’s concerns about racism, friendship, family, and her future. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will cheer Vanessa on and see themselves in her story.
This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances. (Fiction. 10-14)