A light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining rom-com in which debut author, Leah Johnson, successfully updates the high-school prom story for the 21st century.
Elizabeth (Liz) Lighty has spent her entire high school career working hard on her grades and her music and on making sure she doesn’t stand out from the crowd. However, when she fails to gain the college scholarship she’s pinned all her hopes on, she has to think again. She’s not prepared to let her grandparents sell their home to pay for college so she’s determined to find another way. Sadly, there’s only one option. Prom is a big thing in most American schools but at her school – Campbell County High School, Indiana – it is everything. Other schools provide huge endowments for athletics or the arts, but Campbell County has one for Prom and that includes massive scholarships for the prom king and queen. Is Liz prepared to step out from the crowd and do what it takes to run for Queen?
As you may have gathered from the brief summary above, in terms of story structure You Should See Me In A Crown is very much your standard USA high-school rom com. Indeed, it hits every one of the plot points required by the genre and Liz’s quest to become prom Queen – and the antics, incidents and animosity leading up to this – would not be out of place in a blockbuster Hollywood movie.
However, there are a couple of significant differences that don’t appear in the plot summary above. First, Liz is black. Given I’m a prolific reader, it’s really quite shocking that we’ve reached 2020 and this is the first I’ve read in this genre where the aspiring Prom Queen is black. The second major difference is she’s not trying to get together with the male lead – instead, she is trying to figure out how to keep her new girlfriend, Mack, a secret from her rivals.
While it’s impossible to write a book with this backdrop without covering some of the issues of race and sexual orientation, what I liked about this book is that it remains at heart a light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining rom-com. I was particularly impressed by the way the young people of Campbell County so easily accepted Liz as a potential Prom Queen contender and how little prejudice she and Mack encounter from their peers when their relationship becomes public. I have no idea how accurate a representation this is but the more this is presented as normal, the more normal it is likely to be and that can only be a good thing.
The writing itself is tight and flows well. It’s easy to sympathise with Liz and to love and hate her friends and peers as author, Leah Johnson, intends. There is a particularly intriguing sub-plot as Liz slowly rebuilds her relationship with her best friend from middle school, Jordan. (But that might also be because Jordan was my favourite character in the whole book.)
If you enjoyed this, you might like Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard, a fun and funny teen read with a unique twist. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a feel-good teen read, you can’t go wrong with the books by Kate Mallinder – either Summer of No Regrets or, one of my all-time favourite books, Asking For A Friend.
Publication Date: July 2020
Author’s website: Leah Johnson