¡Hola, mi gente!
I’ve been failing at blogging lately, not really around here as much as I wish. But today I’m really excited to bring you a post for a book I loved deeply and filled me with happiness in the middle of these chaotic times we’ve been living.
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Content Warnings: homophobia, racism, anxiety, panic attacks, chronic illness, outing
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
In You Should See Me in a Crown we follow Liz Lighty, a Black queer girl with anxiety in love with music. Her dream is to get into Pennington, the place where all her hopes seem to be possible. There’s a problem: she’s poor and the money she was counting on for her studies suddenly evaporates in front of her eyes.
“I never needed this race or a hashtag or a king go be a queen. I was born royalty. All I had to do was pick up my crown.”
That’s when an idea makes its way into her plans: run for prom queen and win the scholarship awarded to the winner. Liz is skeptical about winning, but it’s her only chance to get the money she needs and she refuses to give up without trying. Campbell has never had a Black prom queen, let alone a Black queer prom queen. Is Liz prepared to be its new queen? She’s not sure, but she’s fighting to show she is. As Liz finds her way to prom royalty, this question changes. It’s no longer a quest trying to see whether Liz is prepared to rule prom, but whether Campbell will even let her have a chance.
And Liz won’t take no for an answer.
THING I LIKED
- Liz is SUCH AN AMAZING CHARACTER. I was rooting for her in each and every page of the book. I loved seeing her grow from the shy Liz in the first chapters to strong, bold and confident girl. She refuses to settle down for something less than what she dreams for. She grabs her opportunity to make things happen, even if it means facing things that put her completely out of her comfort zone. I’m so happy that Black girls have in Liz such an amazing character to relate to.
- I loved the importance of family and friends in the story. Their dynamics are realistic. Through broken friendships, messy make-ups and imperfect family members, You Should See Me in a Crown shows how important having a supportive family and friends that stick with you no matter what is. It also shows how, as important as it is to take of others, it’s also important to accept that there are moments when you need to let others take care of you and that’s ok. You don’t need to be strong all the time.
- The depiction of anxiety in this book was both respectful and realistic. Anxiety doesn’t have a magical solution; it’s something we live with everyday and the book shows that. It also shows how a we can find strength and healthy ways to deal with panic attacks and I feel like it’s extremely important to show that in YA books.
- This book deals with many hard topics, but it doesn’t let this harsh reality obscure the cuteness in the story. And when I say cuteness, I MEAN IT. Liz’s story is a celebration to Black queer joy. Seeing Liz fall for Mack had me smiling like an idiot. It was so heartwarming and fun and SO SO SO cute.
- Leah Johnson’s writing is beautiful and compelling. I read this in one sitting and listened to the audiobook in one sitting as well. If you’re able to read it in both formats, I 100% recommend you to do it. The narration for this book is amazing, but as I read it in print I came to appreciate how well the writing flows. At the end of my reread, there were so many quotes that felt like they deserved to be framed and put somewhere everyone can see them. This book ended up with over 50 post its. Since I don’t want to transcribe the whole book (and, you know, that ain’t legal), here are some of the quotes that live rent-free in my head.
“Silence and shame aren’t the same thing – not by a longshot. But sometimes silence is simpler.”
“Music is something I understand— the notes are a thing I can always bend to my will“
“Terrible people aren’t always the ones doing something wrong. Good people mess up too, but that doesn’t mean we should let it slide.”
“She doesn’t understand that the stakes are always higher for me, that I don’t get the option of not being in control.”
I wanted to dedicate a small part of this review to this quote. Growing up Black in a society that expects you to fail affects the way we see the world forever. Only recently have I seen that my constant need to be in control of how I present myself, how I would look to others, how I spoke and how well I do are rooted in this need to be the acceptable Black. If I’m in control of everything, there’s no way they’ll find fault in me… right? is something that has ruled my actions for pretty much the first two decades of my life. Reading a character that looks like me struggling as I did made me cry (y’all shouldn’t be surprised by now. I cry with everything). I wish Black teens didn’t need to feel this pressure to be acceptable to others.
- The audiobook is amazing. I know I already said this, but I can’t recommend the audiobook enough. They chose the perfect narrator for this story. Alaska Jackson did an amazing job at letting us feel Liz’s emotions through her voice and she managed to make each character distinct and unique.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE
- The only thing I didn’t like has nothing to do with the story, but with the audiobook. There are some moments when there’s music in the background of the narration. This is a nice touch, but since I speed up audiobooks, it sounded loud and distorted. If you don’t listen to audiobooks in 1x-1.5x speeds, this might make it difficult to understand the first few words in sections with music. Other than that, I had no problem with neither story nor format.
Overall, You Should See Me in a Crown was a heartwarming, inspiring read that made me smile A LOT. Black girls deserve to be happy, Black girls deserve to be celebrated. This book gave me Black queer joy in the middle of some very tense days and I absolutely love it for that.
Leah Johnson (she/her) is an editor, educator, and author of books for young adults. Leah is a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow whose work has been published in BuzzFeed, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, and Autostraddle among others. Her bestselling debut YA novel, You Should See Me in a Crown was the inaugural Reese’s Book Club YA pick, and was named one of Cosmo‘s 15 Best Young Adult Books of 2020. Her sophomore novel, Rise to the Sun is forthcoming from Scholastic in 2021.