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  • Authors: Vanessa Williams | Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |
  • Authors: Helen Williams | Twitter |
  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher:  Gotham (April 17, 2012)

“I was upset. I was frustrated. But I didn’t want to kill myself, as was reported. I look back at stories and headlines written about me at the time. They’d say things like ‘Vanessa’s dark days or Vanessa’s hit rock bottom.’ I knew it would be tough, but I also never doubted I would succeed. When you know this, you don’t have dark days, you don’t hit rock bottom. You just have days when you want to scream at people: ‘You have no idea what I can do!” – Vanessa Williams in You Have No Idea


The highly anticipated first book by superstar Vanessa Williams and her mother

When Vanessa Williams was growing up, she had a plan: She’d go to college and major in musical theater; afterward she’d get her MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and then she would embark on a successful career on Broadway. And to make sure she stayed on that path, her mother, Helen Williams, gave her a list of things that she should never— ever—do.  Near the top of that list was “never ever pose nude for anyone.”  So when Vanessa became the first African-American woman to win the title of Miss America in September 1983 (an accomplishment that she never planned for or desired), only to be forced to resign ten months later due to a nude photo scandal, the lives of both Vanessa and Helen took an unexpected turn.  But Vanessa survived this setback, and many others to come, to enjoy a thirty-plus-year career as an award-winning singer and actress. Vanessa has been asked to write her memoir many times, but only now—with the help of her mother—is she ready to tell her story.

Vanessa grew up in Millwood, New York, part of one of the town’s only black families. As a teenager, Vanessa defied Helen, flirting with boys, drinking, and smoking pot.  But despite their early conflicts, Helen has always ardently protected her daughter, staying in contact with the FBI about the multiple death threats Vanessa received after being crowned and being there for her during the dissolution of her two marriages.

Now the mother of four children, Vanessa describes how she’s made it through the ups and downs of her life as well as her career.  Jointly written by Vanessa and Helen and filled with dozens of personal family photos and mementos, You Have No Idea is an empowering celebration of the love between a mother and daughter and the life of a woman who beat the odds to achieve her destiny.”


#3words2describe – Candid, Inspiring, Entertaining

YOU HAVE NO IDEA [audiobook]


A more appropriate title could not have been chosen for this book for me. I won an advance reading copy of You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.  I normally steer clear of biographies about modern-day public figures, as I don’t really want to know the minutiae of their lives. However, I have vowed to read five auto/biographies this year so I signed up for the giveaway based on the subtitle only – without noticing the subject or author. I thought, “Famous daughter equals biography. I’ll take it.” When the book arrived in the mail, I had no idea who it was about. I opened envelope and saw the cover. I did a mental eye roll thinking, “Not a tell-all about beauty pageants book.”

I am trying to read 150 books this year so I dug into this book based on my #nobookleftbehind policy. I am glad that I did. My first impression was quite wrong. Yeah, I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover. While You Have No Idea addresses the Miss America scandal (how could it not), the book covers the many sides of Vanessa Williams – singer, actress, dancer, wife, mother, daughter – and now author.*

What’s really unique (to me) about this book and makes it a worthwhile read is the collaboration with Vanessa’s mother, Helen. They wrote their sections separately so you get to see how events in Vanessa’s life were perceived from each of their sides. (I think that this would be an interesting exercise for others to try with their parents.)  Some events Helen knew about and others she didn’t find out about until working on this book. Vanessa was a rebellious teen and, for better or worse, that character trait seemed to follow her into adulthood. Despite the rebellious vs. no-nonsense personality clashing, it is obvious that Helen has been a strong anchor in Vanessa’s life. And Vanessa clearly values and finds strength in her family.

Vanessa Williams is extremely candid about her experiences and the people who have come into (and sometimes out of) her life. I think that readers will be pleasantly suprisedly. Subject matter aside, the book itself is a bit off to me. If Vanessa hadn’t had such an eventful life or had been less candid, the book would have been a tougher read. The writing style is a little blah – almost textbook like at times. The chapter formatting is a bit confusing and sometimes the text rambles into oddly placed anecdotes (like meals).

All in all, it’s an interesting read. If it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Vanessa Williams just might be a modern-day Hercules. You have no idea. Get the book and find out for yourself.

Recommended for:

  • Fans of Vanessa Williams
  • Biography readers
  • Readers who like stories about strength through adversity
  • Gossip hounds

Check out my You Have No Idea Pinterest board. Can you think of any pins that I should add? Please be sure to follow me while you’re there.

NOTE: I received a free copy (ARC – advance reading copy) of You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

When you think of Vanessa Williams, in what role do you picture her?  Who is your Vanessa Williams?


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