You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
(Content Warning: public outing, chronic illness)
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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?
“Miss Lizzie, why are you looking at the white girl like that?”
“Like what, P?”
She rolls her eyes and tries again. “Uh duh, like Tiana looked at Naveen?”
Reading You Should See Me in a Crown was exactly like watching a 90s teen rom-com, if 90s teen rom-coms were diverse and queer.
What’s really great about movies like 10 Things I Hate About You is that they effortlessly balance humor, satire, romance, and serious themes. You Should See Me in a Crown nailed that same dynamic. The overall tone is fun and cute, but the book definitely has the heavier moments that make you want to cry. Liz has real obstacles to overcome, and the utter spectacle that is prom doesn’t negate that.
Those 90s movies also have completely unbelievable high schools. I’ve never heard of anything like the prom court process in Campbell, and it’s unlikely to the point of preposterous. Also, who invents a social media platform for one school? But it’s so easy to suspend your disbelief and just fall right into the setting with the people. If anything the ridiculousness helps contribute to the feeling of fun you get while reading.
THE ROMANCE!!! Adorable on par with Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling. No, I take that back. CUTER. I was rooting for Liz and Mack from the very beginning. They didn’t so much have chemistry as they did sweet butterflies, and their first kiss was just so precious that I literally almost died.
What else does a 90s movie need? Dance sequence? Check. Makeover montage? Check. The snooty girl getting her come-uppance? Check. Music performance make-up? Check. Misfit friend group? Check. Great soundtrack? Check. (Side-note, if anyone would like to become the fictional band Kitteridge, I will buy your albums.)
The icing on the cake for me? Liz is a band nerd. SQUEE!!!!! And not like it usually is in these books where their like “I went to band for sixth period,” but like actually super into it and it’s part of her identity. While as an award-winning band nerd and former band director I’m not sure Johnson quite captured the experience, I don’t know, maybe the whole thing is just completely different in Indiana? I just know we didn’t have a single drummer on a drum set in any band I was ever involved with. Whatever, I’m not complaining. Love seeing YA protagonists involved in extracurriculars like actual teens.
I just loved this book. It was fun, it was sweet, it was everything I wanted in a summer read. Can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of YA romance.