Coming September 17, 2019. Preorder now!
By: Tami Charles
"Forgiveness is a gift."
Readers of Tami Charles’s debut novel, Like Vanessa, will remember neighborhood bad girl, Beatriz Mendez. Beatriz bullied and betrayed Vanessa as they competed for Miss King Middle School, but is Beatriz really bad? Is she stuck in her gang life, or can she break away and pursue her dreams of fame? Every story is deeper than you think.
It’s Beatriz’s quinceañera, and she is ready to be treated like royalty. But when her brother, the leader of the Diablos, is gunned down by a rival gang, Beatriz will never be the same again. Her dreams of dancing, her hopes for fame, and her love of music died with Junito.
But when handsome brainiac, Nasser, asks her to join a dance competition with him—one that could land them both a role on Beatriz’s favorite TV show, Fame—Beatriz starts to feel the music again. And Nasser makes her feel alive again. But with her Mami practically catatonic with grief, and her duties with Junito’s gang, Beatriz’s dreams are put on hold.
Set in 1984, the music, the dancing, and the rhythm of the life of a Puerto Rican teenager in Newark, New Jersey, reveal a story of hope and perseverance. By the time Beatriz turns sixteen, she has a much better idea about what her dreams are made of, what she’ll do to achieve them, and how to live the life she wants, rather than a life that someone else decided for her.
Listen to Tami discuss writing, Miss America, and Like Vanessa on Publishers Weekly's KidsCast.
Listen to Tami talk about Like Vanessa on Charlesbridge Unplugged.
Author Bio:Tami Charles, author
Tami Charles is a former elementary school teacher who now writes full-time. She lives in Central New Jersey.
Read more about Tami here.
Listen to our podcast interview with Tami here.
Awards & Honors:
2019 Junior Library Guild Selection
Kirkus Reviews, , starred review
In a city where "cocaine is king," can a teenage gang leader dare to dream of another life? Newark, New Jersey. 1984. Beatriz Mendez and her older brother, Junito, lead the powerful Latin Diablos gang. Everything changes on Beatriz's 15th birthday when a Haitian gang leaves Junito for dead and Beatriz badly injured. A Like Vanessa (2018) spinoff, this page-turner opens dramatically with a visceral fight scene that introduces a fierce protagonist. Beatriz is a Spanglish-speaking Puerto Rican badass with "a blade tucked inside [her] cheek…to use on anybody who tries to step." In the aftermath of Junito's death, Beatriz struggles to maintain her standing as a Diabla, raise her grades (mostly D's and F's), and support her grief-stricken zombie of a mother. Though "dancing ain't gonna pay the bills," she allows her childhood dream of becoming a dancer to glimmer through her tough exterior each week when watching her favorite TV show, Fame. Told in the first person, this narrative is full of passion and humor, with flashbacks rooted in Beatriz's beloved salsa music. Realistic newsprint clips effectively add context. A friendship/romance with a new boy contributes depth while avoiding predictability. As Beatriz transcends her trauma and self-doubt—"No such thing as a gangbanger turned famous dancer"—readers experience a necessary portrayal of a young Afro Latina woman who makes her own path, one that isn't straightforward, told in an extremely realistic voice. Inspiring and fresh.
Fifteen-year-old Beatriz Mendez lives a split life between school and gang life, caring for her mother and enforcing gang rules, dancing with an attractive Haitian boy, and carrying a razor blade tucked in her cheek. Set in the 1980s, Tami Charles’s gritty Becoming Beatriz shows Beatriz’s limited choices and the strength she finds to create new ones.
Beatriz, her brother Junito, and her mother leave Puerto Rico for New York City to escape her father’s abuse. Junito turns to dealing to augment the scarce income from their bodega. He forms and heads a gang, the Diablos, which leads to his death in the book’s opening pages. His mother’s grief renders her a vague, emotionally absent character.
The dancing that once defined Beatriz now feels worlds away. Beatriz is also in New York at a time when Fame was at its height and Debbie Allen served as the toughest taskmaster every dancer ever wanted. The only remaining bond between Beatriz and her mother is the television show, and the power of hope that is defined within it is evoked by the plot. Tryouts come to the city, and Beatriz is lured back to dance. But gang life—blood in, blood out, the trap set for Beatriz with her gang initiation at twelve—still looms.
Beatriz is an intense lead, fully aware of the fact that the people and things that she loves could destroy her. Her narration is sympathetic, even through difficult events. She wriggles through narrower and narrower choices, always striving to find another way.
In the tough and hopeful Becoming Beatriz, gangs and hatred can destroy families from the inside out, but talent and grit help people to heal and rise.
ISBN: 978-1-63289-611-7 EPUB
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Ages: 12 and up
Page count: 272
5 1/2 x 8 1/4