I read this in a single day. 336 pages, done in less than 24 hours. It just sprinted past me, refusing to be put down and I was really, really happy to feel that. You Should See Me In A Crown zips by in the read, but sits with you for a while after. This is another YA book that makes me wish I had a young adult in my life to gift it to. At 18 months, my niece is just a little young.
Our narrator is Liz Lighty, a young, gay, black woman in her senior year of high school just outside Indianapolis. She’s been accepted into the kind of dream college she knows can change her life, but doesn’t win the scholarship that would let her attend. There is a last ditch option, though – her high school offers similar scholarships to the prom king and queen. Liz has never been what she would consider “prom queen material” though. She’s spent high school avoiding any kind of spotlight and, given that this is the kind of school clinging to “opposite sex couples only” notions of prom, has never been interested in a prom that doesn’t want her. But can she navigate high school well enough to secure the scholarship keep to her dreams?
I had to do a personal suspension of disbelief on two accounts – that a (seemingly public) high school offers scholarships to its prom king and queen and that a high school would have its own XOXO Gossip Girl style social media where students posted information about each other. Maybe I’m showing my age. Regardless, clear those hurdles, and you’re in for a good ride.
Liz is a wonderful character who really grows in beautiful ways throughout the book. After some early brushes with the gossipy and judgmental nature of her classmates, she mostly closes down – she can’t be judged if no one knows anything about her. If she wants those classmates to vote for her, though, they have to know her and along the way she learns more about them.
This book is big in the “representation matters” category. Liz feels like she can’t be herself in small part because she’s never seen herself – a poor, queer, black girl – before. In writing this book, though, Leah Johnson has created a character that girls can see themselves in, and can see her growing into herself and being happy. This is a little bit a coming out story but for the most part, Liz knows who she is and she’s told her closest friends too. There are moments of homophobia in the book because the world is terrible but the book is also about fighting back and that siding with the status quo is siding with oppression. It’s an important book for young adults, and one I highly recommend. One of my favorite quotes:
But 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.