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?
AUTHOR: Leah Johnson
REPRESENTATION: Black MC and side characters, anxiety rep, chronic illness rep in the form of sickle cell disease, and an F/F romance
TRIGGER WARNINGS: racism, homophobia, chronic illness hospitalisation, panic attacks, death of a parent (off page)
Contemporary books are either hit or miss for me. You Should See Me in a Crown was most definitely a hit. I was hesitant to add this to my TBR because of how prom-centric the synopsis made it sound. Proms aren’t generally a big deal here in the UK and have only gained in popularity in recent years. I actually skipped my leaving ball due to heavy social anxiety. So it’s not really something I relate to nor enjoy. However, I picked up You Should See Me in a Crown on audiobook after seeing so many tweets raving about it and I was in the mood for something a bit lighter than the usual fantasies I go for. I was not disappointed. The audiobook was fantastic and Alaska Jackson did a phenomenal job of bringing the book to life. Would 100% recommend the audiobook.
You Should See Me in a Crown follows Liz Lighty, a girl with dreams too big for her small town. Liz has applied for a college scholarship but has been rejected. In order to find a way to pay for college and take the pressure off her grandparents, Liz decides to run for prom queen. Except it’s never as simple as that and suddenly Liz finds herself falling for her opposition. As well as attempting to find a way to pay for college and navigating her feelings for Mack, Liz is also coping with having lost her mother to a stroke, having a sibling with a chronic illness, and dealing with her own battle with anxiety. This is a book that is full of light and laughter but is incredibly raw and full of heart.
‘And I know then what I’ve always known: Campbell is never going to make a space for me to fit. I’m going to have to demand it.’
Liz Lighty is hands down one of the best main character I’ve ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how much she grows. At the beginning, Liz is dealing with living in a world where she is at a disadvantage because she is a Black queer girl who has little money in a small-minded town. The moment Liz recognises she deserves more than what the world is constantly telling her she is worthy of is going to inspire a lot of people who see themselves represented in Liz. There is so much depth to Liz Lighty. She is down to earth and a huge nerd with a quick wit. She is also incredibly passionate and loves fiercely. Liz is unapologetically herself. If I had to describe her – to describe all the characters in this book – it would be authentic. Johnson did an incredible job of crafting real and relatable characters.
I couldn’t write a review of You Should See Me in a Crown without talking about the romance. While this book features a romance, it is actually not the most dominant aspect of the story. I found the way the romance between Liz and Mack was portrayed was organic. It developed naturally and authentically. I adored their banter and was living for all the cute, fluffy moments between them. And what stood out for me was the way they handled the conflicts that were thrown their way. They handled it in a way that I thought it was incredibly mature, which is not something you often see in a YA book. I thoroughly appreciated the way Johnson wrote it.
‘I don’t believe in fairy tales and love at first sight and all that, but for just a second, I think this girl and those eyes and the way her freckles dot the entire expanse of her face are cute enough to make a believer out of me.’
You Should See Me in a Crown is a heartwarming debut novel that perfectly blends tackling tough topics with humour and heart. The story is excellently written and you can clearly see it has been crafted with so much love and care. You Should See Me in a Crown should be added to your TBRs immediately if it’s not already on there.
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