Debut author Johnson easily channels the self-effacing coolness of 1990s teen comedies with a 2020 sensibility in this heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny YA rom-com. Indiana high school senior Liz Lighty has two goals: attend prestigious Pennington College like her late mother, and become a doctor to study the disease that ended her mother’s life. When the music scholarship she’s counting on falls through, Liz’s brother persuades her to do the unthinkable as one of the only black girls at wealthy, majority-white, and sometimes racist Campbell County High—run for prom queen and win the $10,000 scholarship that accompanies the prom-obsessed town’s crown. An offbeat new girl’s arrival throws Liz’s carefully drawn plans for victory out the window: talented drummer Mack McCarthy is beautiful, and she’s running for prom queen as a legacy. With wit and grounded optimism, Liz answers the book’s burning fundamental question: can a poor, black, queer girl be prom queen? In Johnson’s emotionally resonant storytelling, the pragmatic, hopeful, awkward Liz Lighty comes alive, complete with fear, regrets, hopes, and dreams. So too do her cheer squad of devoted friends and the impressively drawn setting of Campbell High School. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sarah Landis, Sterling Lord Literistic. (June)
Gr 9 Up—Grabbing readers from the outset is the cover photo of a bronzed and radiant Liz Lighty, wearing a hand-drawn crown on her mass of natural curls, complete with a supermodel-style gap between her front teeth. And the story only gains momentum from there. Hair is not the only big thing in Liz's life. She has plans to study premed at Pennington College, but when she fails to get the partial music scholarship, she thinks all chances are gone. Her only hope for funding her education is the town's biggest event of the year, the prom, which comes with its own scholarships. In fact, the prom in Campbell County, IN, is "like football in Texas." As a music geek, Liz is out of her league in this world of dresses, makeup, posters with her face plastered everywhere, and the school's paparazzi. With help from her friends and a few tricks up her sleeve, Liz learns to play the game, including hiding her budding queer romance, sheltering her grandparents from her money woes, and stepping into the spotlight. Johnson's pacing is perfect as the story unwinds at dizzying speed, while attacking some tropes and celebrating others. Occasionally, life has fairy-tale endings. VERDICT Readers will fall in love with this refreshing book that celebrates the beauty of individuality.—Cicely Lewis, Meadowcreek High School, Norcross, GA
A wallflower runs for prom queen.
After being snubbed by her best friend, Jordan, in favor of his new football friends on the first day of high school, Liz Lighty felt acute shame about being herself and all the things that made her different: her height, being black and queer, and not having enough money. She began wearing her hair pulled back, chose less colorful clothing, and did her best to blend in so no one would notice her. But now, as a senior, Liz has to put herself in the spotlight to secure her future. Because despite doing everything right—excellent grades, solid extracurriculars, and playing first-chair clarinet—she doesn’t win a much-needed scholarship at her dream school. When her brother convinces her that running for prom queen—with its $10,000 scholarship prize—is the answer, she enters the competition. The race for the crown gets complicated when Liz falls for one of the other competitors, Jordan tries to rekindle their friendship, and a friend urges her to change everything about herself in order to win. While the hullabaloo around prom seems far-fetched, the lead-up to the dance is pitch-perfect rom-com. Johnson does an excellent job of portraying the anxiety and internalized self-hatred from being different in a mostly white, affluent small town. Liz and Jordan are black; supporting characters appear white by default.
The queer prom romance you didn’t know you needed. (Fiction. 14-18)
Praise for You Should See Me in a Crown:* "Pitch perfect romcom...The queer prom romance you didn't know you needed." Kirkus Reviews, starred review"Johnson's pacing is perfect as the story unwinds at dizzying speed...Readers will fall in love with this refreshing book that celebrates the beauty of individuality." School Library Journal"Johnson puts a fresh spin on this novel with an unlikely romance, heartwarming friendships, and the tension of being Black, poor, and queer in a small town. A feel-good title for sure." BooklistA Junior Library Guild SelectionA Well-Read Black Girl June Book Club YA Book Pick"Filled with humor, heart, and swoon-worthy romance." -Kristina Forest, author of I Wanna Be Where You Are"A love story worthy of a crown." -Mason Deaver, author of I Wish You All the Best"With characters I adore and a romance that brought tears to my eyes, You Should See Me in a Crown absolutely stole my heart." -Kacen Callender, author of This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story and Felix Ever After"You know when a book is like the ideal friend? You Should See Me in a Crown is that kind of book. Juicy, sharp, romantic, big-hearted, real. I loved it." -Anna Godbersen, author of the New York Times bestselling Luxe series"You Should See Me in a Crown is a powerful, absolutely relatable story that reminds Black, queer girls they have the power to do anything they want." -Camryn Garrett, author of Full Disclosure"With a refreshing voice and an unforgettable main character, Leah Johnson has written a stunning debut. Liz Lighty is smart and hilarious." -Sabina Khan, author of The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali