You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson — A Black Queer Girl’s Charm Amidst the Choas of a High-School Prom [Book Review]

While You Should See Me in a Crown has been on my radar for a while, I knew I had to wait to read it because most of the recent releases are only possible for me to savour if I land myself an early digital copy—which of course, I didn’t for this YA contemporary. But it was quickly made available on Scribd and oh, I was so pleasantly surprised because not only could I read this right away, but I could also listen to it; the latter is always more fun when it comes to fun books. So here I am, reading and writing a review for a latest release!

REVIEW OF ARU SHAH AND THE TREE OF WISHES BY ROSHANI CHOKSHI

Title: You Should See Me in a Crown
Author: Leah Johnson
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of Publish: June 2, 2020

Summary:

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?

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You Should See Me in a Crown is a fluffy contemporary romance that is crafted amidst the chaos and charm of a high-school prom, and shines a spotlight on being a Black, queer young girl and the dreams of attending a prestigious school but only with a scholarship, while bringing conversations around privileged inheritance, diversity being used to check boxes, queer romance, financial hardships, and chronic illness of a loved one to the stage.

Representation: Black & sapphic MC with anxiety, sapphic love interest, BIPOC side characters, Black brother with sickle cell anemia.
Trigger Warnings: Challenges racism, queerphobia, and classism; loss of a parent, health anxiety and paranoia around chronically ill loved one; panic attacks, being outed.

EVERYONE SHOULD STAN AN ASPIRATIONAL GIRL.

Liz is heartbroken when she doesn’t receive the financial aid she was expecting to help her study at the college that her mother once graduated from: to maintain a legacy, to make her mother proud, to bring some happiness in her mother’s name after she passed away due to sickle cell anemone. But when she thinks over the much-awaited prom season at her school and the loads of cash being donated by the rich heads, a light shines for undecided future—if she wins the prom queen’s crown, she can get enough money in the name of a scholarship to study at the prestigious college.

However, it isn’t easy to simply walk into the limelight after years of trying to stay on the side lanes. Especially when people expect stereotypical behaviours and actions from a marginalized girl; especially when a girl is Black and queer. The white-dominated high school is evidently not ready to let go off the years of inheritance so Liz’s competition with the popular girls is tough, frustrating, and plain unfair.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO ADDRESS THE CLASSISM, RACISM, AND WHITE PRIVILEGE.

Quite a few scenes and sequences have greatly highlighted the important themes around being Black, being poor, being marginalized, and being different from what everyone at a particular school or community expects. There are clear rules set in place even when something fun like prom is concerned, and how the most privileged ones are default winners due to the system in place—like the popular white girl who is in the race too and is easily predicted to be a winner because her mother had been crowned once too so the lineage should continue.

Liz’s growing confidence and the strength she exhibits allows her to bravely stand against the usual norms that are demanded, especially from her as a Black girl. The clear difference between the set standards is largely discussed, and Liz’s decision to win by her own rules and exhibit the most real version of herself for the crown is worth an applause.

A SAPPHIC ROMANCE THAT GIVES YOU FLUTTERS, FLUTTERS, FLUTTERS.

Right from the start, when Liz sees Mack for the first time, the cuteness is unbearable in the most sweet way. Mack’s boldness, unapologetic personality deserves all the attention, and Liz thinks the same. But being one of the very few Black students was already difficult and coming out as queer would make everything more complicated so our Liz decides to stay away from romantic possibilities.

Though, the frequent hangouts—especially the ones that can make anyone happy, like reading to a group of young kids—can’t help but work as dates in disguise, and before you know, Liz and Mack are becoming relationship goals while figuring out their feelings as an interracial f/f couple.

ANXIETY REPRESENTATION, FAMILY DYNAMICS, AND SUPPORTIVE FRIENDSHIPS ARE WORTH APPRECIATING.

The story perfectly shows the immediate reactions that an anxious person is bound to have when social attention, worry, and nervousness is being faced. Whether it’s the horror of panic attacks that keep Liz away from signing up for things she’ll definitely enjoy but can’t seem to subject herself to the anxiety that’s bound to follow, or the helpful tricks that are used by her to control the racing pulse, the portrayal of an anxious person is perfection.

The family dynamics can make it easy for everyone to empathise with Liz and support her throughout the plot even more. Her grandparents are typically loving yet strict enough to make sure their granddaughter upholds their and her mother’s upbringing. Liz’s love for her brother who is chronically ill with a genetic disorder, sickle cell anemia, is emotional with the genuine care she exhibits as an elder sister. Everything mentioned around her late mother is raw, honest, and seeped with love.

Liz’s friends are not only supportive of her winning this crown—and the scholarship—but are also ready to contribute their strengths: creating an app that can track the rankings of prom queen candidates, astrologically spilling positive energies, cheering for Liz to be the prom queen, and making sure everything unfolds as expected. Though, surprising things do happen. Oh, and Liz’s long lost friendship with Jordan, a now-popular Black guy who was her best friend till middle-school, revives in the sweetest manner.

Disclaimer: Affiliate links in this post can help me earn or indulge in a benefit that would not cost anything extra to your purchase or sign-up!

I’m in no place to give detailed comments on the representation of sexual identities or the ethnicity/race of main characters in this book so please pay heed to the ownvoices reviews for these representations above mine. I’m only positive about my opinions regarding the anxiety depicted.

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22 / she | a desi blogger who loves books and anything related to stories! focuses on south-asian representation in literature, a writer working on a hindu eschatology-based fantasy.

2 thoughts on “You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson — A Black Queer Girl’s Charm Amidst the Choas of a High-School Prom [Book Review]

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve gone blog hopping but I’m back on the train now and absolutely in love with the format of your posts! The sections make it super easy to go to what you want to know, but they flow so well that reading everything from start to finish is a pleasure.

    I’d looked at this book before but skipped over it because I have a hard time enjoying most high school-based YA books, but the representation!!!!! I am staaaarved for stories about people like me (I mean…. like Liz lol).

    Like

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