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?
You Should See Me in a Crown is a YA novel about prom that captures the high school experience in a way that actually makes me remember high school fondly. Yeah, it’s that good. I think it’s a mix of pop culture, swirling emotions, and combined fear and excitement about the future.
It’s a little ironic that this book reminded me of my high school experience because I didn’t go to prom, but Lighty’s band geekery (woodwinds, represent!) made me so happy. I also resonated with her realization that although some popular kids are evil, most of them are good people who are fun to be around. I distinctly remember that experience during my senior year, and it made me wonder how different the previous three years might have been if I hadn’t been so committed to the nerd vs. popular crowd cliché.
This IS a book that’s all about prom, and holy cow, does Lighty have to jump through hoops to try to win the crown. There is entirely too much volunteer work and event participation required, but despite my skepticism as to its basis in reality, it was a good set up for fun moments, from a bake off food fight to a football massacre.
As much as I love the romance in this book (and we’ll get to it), one of the things I loved most was Lighty’s friendships. She’s got a great girl squad, but it’s her complicated relationships with Jordan and Gabby that show real depth and offer some lovely sentiments about forgiveness. And you know I love a platonic guy/girl friendship!
What Makes This Book Queer?
Liz Lighty has already come to terms with her attraction to women before this book begins, and she’s out to her friends and family. However, she keeps her sexuality hidden from the world at large, and I appreciated her hesitancy to come out in a small Midwestern town when she’s so close to escaping to a bigger, less homophobic world.
This becomes much more difficult when she meets Mack, and omg, their relationship is so cute! Introducing a love interest with her defending the protagonist against a racist comment and casually being all, “I have a rule that I speak up when people do or say racist stuff” is excellent. I am also in love!
My only complaint is that the drama in their relationship hinges on a lack of communication, and that is my absolute least favorite reason for drama. I get that Lighty is self-conscious about her family’s financial status, but it doesn’t feel that weird for a high school student to need a $10,000 college scholarship.
Luckily, this is a YA novel, and….spoilers, I guess….but things wind up okay! I really loved every beat of Lighty’s experience of being outed and then supported. It gave me such “the kids will be alright” feelings.
Oh, last thing: Campbell Confidential sounds terrible – do schools really have their own social media apps now??
Find more books nominated for Lambda Literary Awards reviewed here!