You Should See Me in a Crown | Leah Johnson | Book Review

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

PLOT: 3.5/5
CHARACTERS: 4/5
WRITING STYLE: 4/5
CLIMAX: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3.5/5

You could make history if you just follow our rules. You could be a real credit to your people if you just straighten up and fly right. You could actually be worth something if you would shut up and take what we give you.

-Leah Johnson, You Should See Me in a Crown

My Musings

I was on the lookout for a simple and heartwarming read for pride month when I first saw this book on a booktuber’s recommendation list. Needless to state, I was immediately drawn to it. The protagonist in “You Should See Me in a Crown” ticked none of the stereotypical boxes, and this ticked all the boxes for me. Read on to know more about my thoughts on the book and how was my experience of reading it.

What to expect?

Expect a book with a strong female protagonist who is black, queer, and highly ambitious. Expect a book that talks about dreams, ambitions, and the desire to own your future. Expect a book that contrasts the stark realities of the haves and the have-nots. Expect a book with a cute female couple. Expect a book that is about friendship, young love, and familial bonds. And finally, expect a book that is about high school and its accompanying ups and downs.

Who can read?

The book is best suited for young adults and beginners.

Let’s talk about the storyline

Liz Lighty is a shy nerd who is happy being away from the limelight of high school life. In her opinion, she is too black, too queer, too awkward, and too poor to ever make it to the ‘cool kids’ club. Liz feels that she will never be able to stand out in her small midwestern town of Campbell, Indiana. Hers is a town that has always been a bit too obsessed with the prom. To escape from the daily drudgery of her life, she devises a plan.

She wants to attend the prestigious Pennington college, play in their famous orchestra (because music is something that comes as naturally to her as breathing), and eventually become a doctor. But there is just a slight glitch. The scholarship fund that Liz was counting on doesn’t materialize, and now Liz has no choice but to compete in the very thing that she has grown up loathing – the prom.

In a strange twist of fate, the annual prom provides Liz the only chance to win a scholarship that can fund her higher education. Liz has a hard time getting used to the limelight, the melodrama, the catfights, the intense social scrutiny, high school gossip, jealous competitors, the bullies and trolls that come as part and parcel of the prom life.

Navigating this new territory has been anything but easy, and there’s only one person who is keeping Liz sane amidst all this madness – Mack. The new girl is a fellow contestant and is smart, funny, and distractingly gorgeous. Will Liz end up realizing her dreams or will the new girl prove to be a distraction that changes the course of Liz’s life?

How good are the characters?

The characters are a mixed bunch. While I did like the character of Liz, Mack was an indecipherable terrain for me. She wasn’t convincing enough as a character, and I felt no connection with her. I didn’t want to know more about her. Her character could have been so much more, but it wasn’t. It was too underwhelming for my taste. 

Liz, on the other hand, was strong, ambitious, insecure, and hard working. She was passionate and kind, and her vulnerabilities only made her more relatable to the reader. As someone with an ailing brother and anxiety issues of her own, she manages on the sheer strength of her unwavering determination.

What did I like?

I love how the entire book (barring the end) is a welcome move away from stereotypes and predictability that have slowly and steadily crept into the young adult genre. In this book, we get a unique voice, a unique perspective, and characters that show resilience and the will to fight.

What did I not like?

I felt that the book tried to do too much and ended up not focusing on one single issue. There were just too many things that the author tried to deliver in a short read – poverty, loss of a parent, queerness, racism, high school melodrama, estranged friendships, anxiety, life-threatening sickness. The book touches upon some of these quite superficially. Instead of giving the reader detailed perspectives, it only flimsily brushes through these subjects.

Let’s talk about the climax

The climax is pretty cliché and predictable. The story had so much more potential had the climax worked out in a better way. I am not against ‘feel good’ endings, but that doesn’t mean the reader should be able to guess everything halfway through the story. I needed a little more drama and suspense. I needed a ‘hook’ that made me excited to turn those last few pages.

It all comes down to the entertainment quotient 

When it comes to entertainment, there is no dearth of it in “You Should See Me in a Crown”. The book has all the right ingredients in the right doses to make it a decently paced entertainer. Friendship troubles, relationship blues, high school drama, a gossipy school app, a cute LGBTQ couple, an ambitious protagonist, and her fight for a respectable future – thrown in with some typical clichés like a vicious social butterfly and her clique, a controlling friend and a friendship gone awry – all of it, together makes the book a fun read.

In the end

In the end, “You Should See Me in a Crown” is a book that manages to be a light read while touching upon sensitive subjects like racial and sexual prejudices. The female protagonist, with her anxiety issues and social insecurities, presents a character that is both relatable and admirable.

The final verdict

Go for it!

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