You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah JohnsonYou Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is a beautiful young adult novel full of Black girl joy. It’s one of my favourite books this year and I can’t recommend it enough.

One of the few Black kids in school, Liz Lighty is ready to get out of smalltown Indiana. She just has to finish highschool, get a scholarship and then she can start fresh at Pennington College in the pre-med track. But her plans come crashing down when she doesn’t get the scholarship she desperately needs and Liz has to think fast about how she can scrape up the money. If she doesn’t, she knows her grandparents would sell their house to cover the expense and Liz does NOT want that.

Liz’s brother comes up with the best and worst idea ever: if Liz wins the contest for prom queen, she’ll get a scholarship that’s enough to get her to Pennington. Of course, that means putting herself front and centre for the entire Campbell County student body after spending more than three years deliberately staying out of the limelight. The idea of doing community service alongside the school’s most popular kids is stressful for Liz, but it turns out to not be too bad when she meets Mack, the totally crushworthy new girl in town.

Mack is out and proud, while Liz is still in the closet. Can they find love together when their openness about being queer is so different, especially while running against each other for prom queen?

The Characters

Liz Lighty is one of my favourite characters this year. She’s a good, kind person and when we meet her at the beginning of the story, she’s also quite shy and happy to let her friends lead the way with their social circle. Liz has to stretch far out of her comfort zone in this story, between thrusting herself into the spotlight, being forced to work with her former best friend (he’s in the race for prom king), and trying to navigate her first relationship with a girl when Liz isn’t out. It also doesn’t help that she’s one of the few Black kids in school and only sees straight kids getting promposals (prom + proposal), leaving her feeling like an outsider in a couple of different ways. Liz isn’t perfect and she has to navigate her way through social stumbles along the way. She grows into such a confident and strong young woman that I had happy tears for her at the end.

Mack, Liz’s love interest, is the confident white girl I hope either of my daughters turns into some day. She doesn’t care whether anyone listens to the same indie music as her, is out and proud, and knows what’s important for her. I appreciated seeing how difficult it was for her to have a closeted girlfriend, but how, at the same time, it was important for her to support Liz going at her own pace. Because I have a hard time believing in a true happily ever after with YA romances, I don’t know where these girls end up 10 years in the future, but I was so happy for them at the end because they really are adorable together.

The Writing Style

You Should See Me in a Crown is told in the first person. If that’s not your jam, I’d still recommend you at least try a sample because Liz’s voice is so unique and worked so well for me. For example, when she describes her friends, Liz says:

My friends are certified oddballs, the inkblots on an otherwise pure white page, and it’s why we work together so well. Because as long as they’re my people, as long as they’re the ones on my left and my right, sometimes I can forget that I don’t fit in anywhere else in this town.

With the way the school and its life are described, I can very easily imagine this book as a movie. Side note to Netflix: please, please make this teen f/f romcom (have I said please yet?), because I can guarantee SO MANY people will love it.

The town is over-the-top with its enthusiasm for prom and some of the promposals are ridiculous, leading to some hilarious commentary from Liz; the words “Simba looking over the Pride Land” may have come up in reference to one of them. It’s really not the safest place for a queer Black girl, given that it’s a very white, traditional town where only girls and boys can attend prom together and the rules don’t account for nonbinary kids. Thankfully there isn’t a lot of emphasis on homophobia or racism, because that’s not what the story is about. So, while we’re aware of why Liz might not want to come out, the story never gets too heavy.

The Pros

Oh goodness, how to even sum up my favourite parts?

  1. Liz Lighty all the way! Seriously, I love her.
  2. The anxiety representation in this book is excellent. It’s something that Liz deals with and I wish I would have had an example like this when I was in high school because maybe I could have figured out my own issues with anxiety a whole lot sooner.
  3. The scene where the prom court is announced made me teary. For people who don’t know, it’s when the group of people running is narrowed down to a small group of contestants (in this case, four for prom queen and four for prom king). That scene is magnificent. Seriously, Netflix, get on this because it would be MAGIC on screen!

Content notes

Like I mentioned above, there is some homophobia and racism, mainly from one character in particular who’s also running for prom queen and is a total jerk. However, it’s not the main point of the book and doesn’t take up much space. This book really is all about bringing Black girl joy to the forefront, but I just want to give a heads up for anyone going into it in case that’s something they need to know.

The Conclusion

taras favourite lesbian booksDo you have any kiddos in your life who are on the lookout for their next great YA read? Get them this book! Do you like excellent books that will leave you with a smile at the end? Get yourself this book too! Honestly, I read this one a little while back and haven’t been able to shut up about it since. I would give it my favourites badge twice if I could and I will definitely be coming back to it again and again.

Excerpt from You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

“You’re the one girl, I want to go to prom with!” Derek is belting at the top of his lungs and it is certifiably awful, but no one seems to care. The girls from the pom squad come in from the hallway, where they must have been lying in wait, fully decked out in their uniforms, and grab their partners from the basketball team. And suddenly, they’re doing full Dirty Dancing choreo and not missing a beat.

The entire cafeteria is watching this show, and I sort of want to die. Seriously, my stomach threatens to bring up the granola bar I ate for breakfast just at the sight.

Not only because it’s Rachel at the center of the attention again, but because this public of a display of, well, anything really terrifies me—even when I’m the furthest thing from being involved in it. I mean, everyone is looking at you, watching you, waiting for you to do something worth posting to Campbell Confidential. The idea of people’s eyes being on me for any longer than the time it takes for me to pass out their sheet music before concert band rehearsal makes me undeniably anxious. It’s why I never ran for class president or auditioned for a school musical and can barely take solos in band without wanting to evaporate.

When you already feel like everything about you makes you stand out, it just makes more sense to find as many ways to blend in as you can.

But still, there’s something about the way Derek is looking at Rachel that makes my heart sink. People like Rachel and Derek get the perfect high school sweetheart love story to tell their kids about one day, but tall, black, broke Liz Lighty doesn’t stand a chance. Not in a place like this, anyway.

I don’t resent my classmates—I really don’t. But sometimes (okay, most of the time) it’s just that I don’t feel like one of them.

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