58 pages • 1 hour readLeah Johnson
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You Should See Me in a Crown was written by Leah Johnson and published in June 2020 by Scholastic. The book received a Stonewall Book award for its LGBTQIA+ representation and was temporarily sold out in bookstores across the nation on its first launch. The novel is set in modern day, where a young woman, Liz Lighty, begins to put together a plan to become prom queen of her tiny Midwestern town. Liz wants nothing more than to go to Pennington College on a music scholarship, join their orchestra, and become a hematologist. Liz is one of the only Black students at her high school, which is composed of students from predominantly white and wealthy families.
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After Liz fails to get a music scholarship to her dream college, Pennington, she decides to run for prom queen because there is a cash award. When her childhood friend and only other Black student at school, Jordan, rebuffed her back in freshman year, Liz begins to have serious problems with her self-confidence that continues to this day. Liz begins trying to be as invisible as she can throughout her time at school. As such, Liz is afraid of being in the spotlight, but she has to step into it in order to have a chance at winning.
Prom is a huge institution in Liz’s hometown. The scholarship will make going to Pennington a reality for her. She does not want to burden her grandparents with the cost of college, as they are already struggling with her younger brother’s medical bills and will need to sell the house to help her bridge the gap in funding. With the help of her three best friends, Gabi, Stone, and Britt, Liz gets a makeover and begins running for prom queen. The school’s own social network, Campbell Confidential, is abuzz with the rankings of those running for prom court. Liz is almost dead last in the rankings, alongside a new student named Amanda. Liz only has three weeks to change everyone’s mind about her.
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In the span of those three weeks, Liz goes to a series of optional and mandatory volunteer events. Forced to spend more time together, Liz and Jordan, who is running for prom king, begin to mend their friendship. It is later revealed that Jordan attempted to give Liz a letter of apology for the way he treated her in their freshman year. Gabi, Liz’s fashion-forward and protective best friend, hid the letter as she was jealous that Liz was spending more time with Jordan. As Jordan and Liz’s friendship mends, Gabi and Liz’s relationship begins to break down. Liz, who is queer, has begun spending a lot of time with the new student Amanda, and they’re both extremely attracted to one another. Amanda and Liz both bond over their favorite band and begin dating, though they keep it a secret. Liz is afraid of being outed, as she is convinced that her sexuality will end up hurting her in the polls and ruining her chances at winning prom queen. Gabi tries to get Liz to continue hiding her sexuality, and this leads to yet another rift between the two girls.
During those three weeks, Liz is repeatedly forced to confront Rachel, the frontrunner for prom queen who often spews homophobic and racial hate speech against her. Later in the race, Rachel outs Liz by posting a recording of a conversation she overheard between Liz and Amanda about their relationship. Though Rachel is kicked out of the race for this, many parents also demand that Liz withdraw from the running. Liz and Amanda have to overcome the strict rules around their prom which dictates that same-sex dates are not allowed to attend the dance together. They eventually overcome these rules and also their own disagreements about being public about their relationship. Gabi drums up student body support for Liz and she eventually manages to win a place in prom court.
Robbie is in the hospital for his sickle cell anemia and gives Liz and her family a scare. However, he soon recovers. This incident only strengthens Liz’s friendship with Jordan, who encourages her and Gabi to make up. Back at school, Amanda asks Liz to prom and she says yes. They end up going to the prom together where Liz wins prom queen and Jordan wins prom king. As an act of defiance, Jordan gives Amanda his crown and she and Liz kiss in front of the entire school. The end of the novel finds Liz overcoming the many prejudices of the small town and high school she is in. Liz feels comfortable and confident in herself, her abilities, and in her relationships and friendships.