Published: 2nd June 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary/Romance
Trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, cyber bullying
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?
This is the kind of feel-good book that made it impossible not to raise more than the occasional smile. There is a wonderfully crafted romance along with writing that is imbued with light humour and fun, but right at the very centre of it is a loveable and authentic main character who is absolutely perfect for this empowering story and helps to make it the delightful read that it is.
The plot may be relatively simple and the ending quite predictable, but the journey that takes you there is joyful all the same. It is a story that will feel inspiring to a great many readers, as it enforces all the right messages and underlines that good will come if you stay true to who you are, keep working hard and doing the right thing. For me, that more than anything makes this story so uplifting.
Despite being smart and extremely diligent, Liz Lighty has always felt too awkward and shy to achieve great things in her life, as well as being black and less privileged than a lot of the people in her neighbourhood. She attends Campbell High School, an institution with a very questionable attitude towards diversity and its own social media channel, which ensures that almost everything the students do goes viral.
With a passion for music, Liz is hoping to earn a scholarship at an elite college, but her application is turned down. She does not have the money to get into Pennington, so her only chance now is to run for prom queen. The problem is, she fears being the centre of attention and the whole thing is entirely out of her comfort zone, so even with help from her friends, Liz feels that it is unlikely that she can win.
Along the way, she meets and falls in love with a new girl called Amanda, who is also running for queen. They share a lot in common but Liz hopes to keep the relationship a secret, worried that some of her competitors will use it a horrible excuse to discredit her. However, nothing will stop Liz from seeing her dreams come true, in more ways than one.
The book falls into several different categories, and while it is marketed as a romcom, I would say it is more of a young adult contemporary. For sure, there is a fair amount of romance in there and a few moments that certainly made me laugh, but to me neither felt like the central theme. First and foremost, it was a beautiful tale of self-discovery.
Each chapter is relatively short and the story moves along at a fast pace, never providing a single dull moment in the process. It is primarily character driven and as such, many elements of the plot it are quite straightforward. But then again, several barriers are placed in front of Liz as she bids to become prom queen, and the romance aspect takes some unexpected turns.
The entire story is told in the first person from the perspective of Liz, and it is fair to say that I absolutely adored her. It is evident from very early on that she has a wonderful voice that is both eloquent and at times light-hearted, but always with a hint of nervous energy running through it, so I had no problems at all in connecting with it.
Liz is so likeable and down to earth, and there are various sides to her personality that come across as relatable or make her easy to root for. There was only one moment where I felt she acted out of character, but generally she was a superb protagonist. It is also good that her family is given a lot of depth; I loved their whole dynamic and her brother Robbie was entertaining to read.
As for the romance itself, it plays out very nicely. Amanda, principled and possessing her own insecurities, is another character who in my opinion is impossible not to like, and she and Liz are just perfect for each other. I appreciated the fact their relationship was a bit of a slow burn and it was written in a sophisticated way, just how I prefer it.
Campbell is a place full to the brim with larger than life characters, but most of them were enjoyable to read in their own way. Jordan was someone who I was unsure about at first but ended up really liking, Gabrielle had an interesting storyline, and Madame Simone was memorable for her speech patterns. I did feel that Rachel was a bit of a cliche, but she fitted the concept.
Although some of things surrounding the prom did seem a little over the top, it helps the book to explore the power and influence of social media. We see how Campbell Confidential turns out to be a force for both good and bad at certain points, either damaging one student’s reputation or enforcing powerful messages.
The writing is very engaging throughout. I liked that it was never too informal, instead finding just the right tone, while providing moments that made me laugh as well as a succession of popular culture references. Through her storytelling, the author brought out the very best in Liz and most areas of the plot.
Overall, it feels like you can hardly go wrong with this book. It is smart and cheerful with a great romance and a protagonist who carries the story brilliantly with its positive and inspiring messages. The diverse representation is spot on, and just like it says on the back of the cover, it really is black girl magic.
As well as being an author, Leah Johnson is also an editor and an educator, and You Should See Me In A Crown is her debut novel. It was one of Publisher’s Weekly and Cosmo‘s best Young Adult books of 2020, and has been shortlisted for a Goodreads Choice Awards in the YA category.
Elsewhere, Johnson has had her work published in Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue among others. Her next book, Rise To The Sun, will be published in 2021. It is already on my TBR!
A really lovely book, from the inspiring nature of the story to the excellent execution of an f/f romance. If you want an uplifting book, then look no further than this one.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐