The Bully Finds Her Own Spotlight

Tami Charles explores transformation and forgiveness in Becoming Beatriz.

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Tami Charles explores transformation and forgiveness in Becoming Beatriz.

Beatriz Mendez is the gangland bully in Tami Charles’ hit novel Like Vanessa. In Becoming Beatriz, Charles gives Beatriz the chance to discover a new path and seek redemption. The novel is set in Newark, where Charles’s mother served as a public-school teacher and principal. Readers will feel the author’s deep connection to the teenage characters she creates. Charles does not sugarcoat the serious consequences of violence and crime. By facing the truth, Beatriz learns to reckon with her past and choose a new future.

How and when did you decide that Beatriz Mendez deserved a book of her own?

The ending of Like Vanessa left me feeling like everything would turn out well for Vanessa Martin. I still, however, worried about her bully, Beatriz. I wanted to know what life was like after the death of her brother. Did she take over his gang? Did she give up on her own dreams? Did she change? These questions guided me in creating her story.

Both Beatriz and Nasser carry dramatic childhood memories of Puerto Rico and Haiti. How has Caribbean culture affected young people in
New Jersey?

Describing Beatriz and Nasser’s love of their birthplaces was important for me. Growing up in Newark and Roselle, Caribbean culture was a staple in my neighborhood. From the music to the food to the language, it’s all indelibly stamped in my childhood memories. It’s important for all children to be exposed to diverse cultures and see the beauty that they have to offer.

Beatriz witnesses multiple acts of violence. What is the long-term impact on young people like Beatriz?

For sure, witnessing violence can seriously affect young people. I believe that mentors play a huge role in the healing process. For Beatriz, my favorite part of the arc was seeing a large community of people rally behind her as she worked toward becoming her best self.

Becoming Beatriz features the television show Fame. On July 8, 2018, you had a chance to dance alongside Debbie Allen. What did Fame and Debbie Allen mean to you growing up?

I started watched Fame at a very young age—probably around three-years-old. Dare I say Debbie Allen was my very first dance teacher? Who wasn’t inspired by the power of her voice. . .“You want fame?”  Why, yes, yes I did! I didn’t grow up to be the dancer that Debbie Allen told me I could be. But, what was important was the feeling that I could literally be anything, that I could soar, if I paid for my dreams. . .in sweat. I’m forever grateful for the positive impact that Debbie Allen had on me.

I love that Becoming Beatriz is set in the pre-smartphone era. How do you think life has changed for teenagers since then?

Oh, a lot has changed for sure! Back in the day, we slipped notes in lockers. When we wanted to have a conversation, we had to actually pick up the phone. . .and talk! Today, many teens and adults are all about texting and fast-paced technology, and I do feel that it can make us more reclusive at times. There’s just something sweet and nostalgic about revisiting a time when smartphones didn’t exist. So long as readers are reading, that’s the stuff that joy is made of—no texting necessary.

You make many author appearances at schools. What is your primary message for young readers? What’s the most surprising question you’ve been asked?

School visits are my favorite part of the job! They give me a reason to step away from my writing cave (this gig gets lonely, at times). They allow me to share my love of literature with students. My favorite presentation involves showing students the “beauty of no and the power of yes.” In life you’ll sometimes experience rejection. The key is to not give up, because eventually you will get your “yes.”

As for the most surprising (and hilarious) question I’ve been asked? On a school visit in Baltimore, a student asked how much money I made as a writer. I’d never been asked that before, so naturally I hesitated. I guess I took too long to answer because she stated, “Oh, you don’t want to tell us? Don’t worry, I’ll just Google your net worth!” I laughed and cried! (and cried some more. . .yikes!)

For more information about author visits, please visit Tami online at: https://tamiwrites.com/school-visits
 

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