Book in Review: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Welp, it’s official. This “books in review” segment is now an ongoing thing!

So, today, I wanna talk about my most recent novel completion, which happens to be You Should See Me in a Crown. This book was the first on Reese Witherspoon’s YA book club list a while back, and it’s had a ton of positive reviews on Goodreads.

Though… in today’s post, I’m going to share my own opinions on this reading, and just a heads up: it’s not all positive.

The Book Overview

First and foremost, this is not your average YA romance/drama. The main character is a high school senior that also happens to be a black queer woman, and that’s certainly something we don’t get a lot of in YA Lit (though we’re all hoping that fact changes soon!).

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?

(Book cover and description taken from Goodreads)

In short, this is a classic high school prom romance with a bit of a twist.

My Review

First of all, I want to make this clear: I’m always down for LGBTQ+ novels, especially in the YA genre, so the fact that this book falls in that category has nothing to do with my overall view of the storyline, characters, setting, ect. So, don’t be coming for me, y’all!

Now, I just have to get this out of the way because it’s been eating me up inside since page 1…

The setting of this novel is, in my opinion, not realistic.

As a fellow rural-living Hoosier, I just feel like I need to defend Indiana’s small town reputations. So, here’s my deal… Liz (our main character) is supposedly from a “small town” community that’s ALSO located mere MINUTES away from DOWNTOWN Indianapolis. Um… I sure hope everyone else understands that Indianapolis is literally the largest city in Indiana and is completely surrounded by large suburbs on all sides. I even used to live in one of those suburbs, so trust me on this, please. And, to be extra super duper clear, suburbs do not equal small/tiny rural towns.

I also realized (after reading) that the author, Leah Johnson, is a native Hoosier from the Indy area herself, so I’m just going to assume that the book’s setting is loosely based on her home base and guess that she probably has a different definition of what a small town is.

Oh, and also, the fact that Mack (our main love interest) came in as a new kid from Chicago, again, literally the LARGEST city in the Midwestern region, and somehow thought that the high school in Campbell was bigger than her old school back in the big city of Chicago really confused me, too. Like… small towns equal small schools, and these folks clearly ain’t in a small town if their school is bigger than one from Chicagoland. You know what I’m saying?

Anyway, unrealistic Indy-area locale aside…

I also felt that the storyline was very cliché.

Like, having a black, queer main character is definitely not cliché, but pretty much every other element in this story is. For example: mean girls. There’s plenty of them, and they act exactly how we all think a mean girl acts, and they always get what we all think a mean girl’s got coming to her. And, of course, they always pick on the awkward main character, and they always do what they have to in order to get ahead in line for prom queen.

As for another cliché, look no further than Liz’s friends, specifically her best friend, Gabby (also known as G). Gabby’s pretty flat, in my opinion, and all she seems to care about is being the girliest girl possible. She’s not really funny, and she’s just someone that seemed to be added for the sake of being added.

And, let’s not even mention the whole prom… thing. You know, prom this, prom that—everything’s about prom, prom, prom after page, like, 20 or so.

Let’s give some credit where credit is due, though… like… the audiobook narrator did a good narration, I think?

I did listen to the audiobook version of this novel (which is my main go-to format), and I guess I can say that the narrator did a good job narrating, if anything. I mean, I seriously don’t want to seem rude or anything, but… honestly, this just was not my favorite book.

There were also some good points of internal emotion on the main character’s part. As in, like, she had some real struggles to push through, and I did feel bad for her. And, she wasn’t whiny about it or anything, so we can give props for that, too.

Other than that… yeah, this just isn’t my top recommendation.

However, this is just my own personal review, and you all may still enjoy it! I’m definitely not saying it’s a bad teen fiction novel by any means; it was on Reese Witherspoon’s reading list, after all.

So, please feel free to leave a comment down below on what you think/thought of You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, whether you agree or disagree with me!

And now, until our next book in review…

–Kari

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