Book Review: "You Have No Idea" by Vanessa Williams and Helen Williams

YES. THAT Vanessa Williams. THE Vanessa Williams. The one who went to Syracuse and was the first black Miss America and who was on Broadway and who played the resplendent Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty and who sang that song from Pocahontas that listen to in my car every day because my kid just won't shut up about it. VANESSA WILLIAMS.

(You can probably tell that I am VERY EXCITED that BlogHer Book Club gave me a chance to review her memoir, You Have No Idea, which Ms. Williams wrote with her mother. And here's a newsflash [and also the short version of this review]: Vanessa Williams is pretty awesome, and her mother doubly so.)

(Also, full disclosure: I love that "Colours of the Wind" song. Makes my cry every time. Yes, I'm a hippy-dippy tree hugger. Whatever. Don't you judge me.)

The main theme of You Have No Idea is resiliency. How do you bounce back from scandals, bad decisions, broken hearts, deep dark secrets, and somehow manage to come out on the other side better than ever? According to Vanessa and Helen, you do it by never forgetting where you come from and by always remembering what is really important. You stand with and behind the people who have always stood with and behind you. You learn from your mother, and you share your wisdom and experience with your daughter.

One of the things I like best about this memoir is that is told "in parallel" -- for example, when Vanessa talks about the Miss America scandal, it's not just her story; her mother also gets a chance to talk about how those events affected her, as well. You can tell in the language and expressions how much these two have rub off on each other. They're not entirely alike, but they're not entirely different, either (as you would expect from a mother and daughter who are very close).

Mostly, though, it's refreshing to read a book about a celebrity that isn't vapid, vacuous, or vicious. Partly this is because Helen is not "famous" except mostly by association (although her own accomplishments as a teacher are outstanding on their own), but I also think this is because both women are just so darned nice, smart, and funny. The tell their story in a way that is honest but also diplomatic; they recognize that it is possible to tell the truth without hurting others' feelings more than necessary.


Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are my own. Come on over and join the discussion!

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