You Have No Idea by Vanessa and Helen Williams may be the perfect book for Mother’s Day reading. Why?
As the long, but very accurate subtitle says, it’s about “a famous daugher, her no-nonsense mother, and how they survived pageants, Hollywood, love, loss (and each other)”
This story is both autobiography and biography, as Vanessa and Helen take turns writing about their own lives, and then say what they did, and more importantly, how they felt, as they weathered the storms of their life together.
Because there were definitely storms. Some were the typical battles between teenage daughters and their moms. And college-aged young women and their moms.
And then, there’s the big, famous one. Which, when you read the Williams’ story, actually started because a typical college-aged young woman wanted to prove her independence. And it came back to haunt her at the worst possible time. Doesn’t it always?
Reading the events of Vanessa Williams’ life pre-Miss America, it’s easy to see the events from her perspective. A young woman looking for scholarship money, she entered the contest thinking she didn’t have much of a chance against the veterans of the pageant-circuit. Then she won, and her life changed forever. Fame, fortune and notoriety, all embodied in those words, “There she is, Miss America.”
The first African-American Miss America. The first Miss America to receive death threats. The first Miss America to resign after nude photographs of her were published in Penthouse.
The autobiography she wrote with her mother Helen is not just about her year as Miss America, and the aftermath. It’s about how she pulled herself up afterwards.
Vanessa Williams had always intended to be on Broadway. She never meant to be a pageant queen. The story is about picking herself up, dusting herself off, and getting her dream back. No matter how many detours it takes.
If you detour often enough, the wreckage isn’t even in your rear-view mirror any longer.
Reality Rating B+: I read this pretty much straight through, which isn’t something I often do for biography, so that’s a big plus. The parts where Helen and Vanessa (I can’t call them both Ms. Williams, it’s just confusing) gave different perspectives on the same events, was absolutely fascinating! Being a daughter and not a mother, I saw Vanessa’s side so easily, I wonder more what my mom was thinking about some of the things I did at those same points.
I really felt for both of them at the sudden loss of Mr. Williams. I lost my own dad in similar circumstances, and I teared up in those scenes.
There’s a lesson in Vanessa Williams’ story, one that made me think. When those photos were taken, she trusted the person who took them, and assumed they’d never come to light. If she hadn’t become famous, they would probably have been lost forever. They only had value because she became famous. She (and I) grew up at a time when one’s youthful excesses were not recorded. No Facebook, no cellphone cameras. You embarrassed yourself in front of your friends and they would probably remember, but there wouldn’t be any actual evidence to haunt you 5 or 25 years later.
Today, with Facebook and cellphone cameras the Wayback Machine, does anything ever really go away? Especially the stuff that you really wish would?
***Disclaimer: I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.
If you want to join this month’s discussion of You Have No Idea on the BlogHer Book Club, you can join the discussion by following this link to the Book Club. If you want to connect with Vanessa Williams, you can connect with her on Twitter at @vwofficial, or by liking her Facebook page.