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You Should See Me in a Crown

You Should See Me in a Crown book cover


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Book Review

High schooler Liz has to come up with a new plan after losing her hoped-for college scholarship. Then her brother reminds her that the school Prom Queen is awarded a scholarship, too. But Prom Queens are generally everything Liz isn’t! Guess it’s time for a major public image makeover.

Plot Summary

When Liz receives news that she hasn’t been selected for a music scholarship, she panics, worrying that her grandparents will sell their house in order to pay for her tuition. However, her younger brother, Robbie, suggests that Liz run for Prom Queen at their high school since the winner is awarded a scholarship.

Liz is hesitant because as a poor, black girl, she just doesn’t feel like she fits the “Prom Queen” bill.

But, then again, she doesn’t have much of a choice. Her dream is to get her undergraduate degree at Pennington (the school her mom went to) and then move on to medical school so she can develop a cure for sickle cell anemia—the disease that killed her mom and that Robbie inherited. And she can only do that if she secures the funds to go to Pennington.

During her run for queen, Liz has a few advantages. She’s the top of her class, which accounts for a small portion of who will end up on prom court, and she has friends who are ready to strategize, campaign and completely redesign Liz’s public image.

But as a shy, relatively unknown student, Liz must put herself into situations that require her to be outgoing, friendly and happy. She’ll have to battle her anxiety and make herself known when all she wants to do is sink back into non-existent bliss.

Throughout the process, she makes new friends, rediscovers old ones and even loses a few. She also manages to find love in Mack, a new girl at their school also running for queen.

However, if Liz really wants to win that scholarship, she’ll have to do more than put on a temporary farce to win the approval of her classmates. She’ll need to take a stand against those prejudiced against her, fight through some family trauma and learn how to be confident in her own skin, as a queen would be.

Christian Beliefs

Liz doesn’t seem to have any faith system, though there are a few comparisons to Jesus, heaven and Satan. And someone says a particularly gaudy banner is “enough to make a nun curse God and walk backward into hell” before crossing herself as a joke.

Other Belief Systems

Liz’s friend Stone seems to follow New Age beliefs. She refers to “Mother Universe,” uses crystals, performs cleansing ceremonies and reads horoscopes. Someone jokingly prays to Beyoncé. Another character offers a moment of gratitude to some unnamed “gods.” There is a joke about an altar of sacrifice.

Authority Roles

Liz holds a few people in high regard: her grandparents, who sacrificed everything to raise her and Robbie after their mom died; her music teacher, who helped prepare her for a scholarship audition; and her brother’s doctor, who inspired her to become a doctor as well.

But when Liz doesn’t respect an adult, it’s obvious. To be fair, that disrespect is often directly linked to how those adults respond to Liz as a gay, poor, black girl (in other words, someone who isn’t their ideal prom queen) and how they respond (or rather, don’t respond) to her rule-breaking peers.

There’s a general lack of authority throughout the book. High school-aged kids undermine and manipulate their parents and educators. But nobody seems to care because the parents are more concerned about throwing the “perfect” prom than actually raising their kids to be polite, kind, law-abiding citizens.

And this obsession actually lends itself to some pretty awful behaviors that go unchecked. One boy throws a party while his parents are out of town, serving copious amounts of alcohol. We also hear about a young man urinating on a police vehicle. And when one girl makes a public, homophobic slur about Liz, it’s Liz who’s nearly punished for the girl’s foul remark.

Liz’s school has a “no drinking, no vaping” policy and several LGBT prom policies. But parents and teachers allow kids to work around the rules or ignore them completely if it benefits the kids they like.

Liz lies to her grandparents and goes behind their backs quite often. And Robbie purposely neglects to take his medications, landing him in the hospital.

We see relationships between other teens and their parents, some of which demonstrate a clear parent-child dynamic and others which resemble more of a “I want to be their buddy” dynamic. (When one girl’s parents are arguing, and eventually divorce, she and her friends ignore the situation.)

Profanity & Violence

There’s one use of the f-word as well as scattered uses of “a–hole,” “d–n,” “d–mit,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused multiple times, and Jesus’s name is also misused a few times (once paired with Mary and Joseph).

Liz punches her friend as a reflex when he startles her. Rachel illegally tackles Liz in a game of flag football. Liz is unharmed, but jolted, and she plays it up for sympathy. Later, Rachel is removed from an event after trying to attack Liz again.

Liz’s school creates a drunk-driving simulation in which students are made up to look like they’ve been in a horrific, fatal car crash.

Sexual Content

Liz is gay and winds up in a relationship with another girl. They kiss, hold hands and dance together. And we read about gay pride, “love is love,” and an emphasis on learning and living your truth.

Liz and her girlfriend are also victims of homophobia. A girl at their school calls Liz “queer” disparagingly in an attempt to get Liz kicked off of prom court, and it almost works. But Gabi reminds school administrators that it would become an issue for the ACLU if they do so. And in the end, while the girls are technically not allowed to attend prom together, they manage to bend the rules by purchasing separate tickets and agreeing not to hold hands, kiss or dance too close. (These rules are not upheld since they kiss at prom anyway.)

Mack agrees to not “out” Liz because Liz leads her to believe that it would be unsafe to do so. However, when Mack learns that Liz was worried she’d lose the prom queen race if people knew she was gay, she dumps Liz, angry about the lie and feeling hurt since she considers herself to be a proud gay girl.

We learn that a straight couple at Liz’s school nearly had sex during a school event but went unpunished. Several other couples kiss. We read about short shorts, shirtless boys and a teacher’s “plumber’s crack.”

Discussion Topics

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Liz’s school has an unofficial social media platform called “Campbell Confidential” where students can post about teachers and other students, gossip and spread rumors. Her grandmother forbids her and Robbie from using it because of its negativity. How can social media platforms (official and unofficial) affect how we feel about our peers and how we feel about ourselves in comparison? How does it affect characters within the story? What sort of problems does social media create both online and in person? How is Campbell Confidential used positively in the story and how do we translate that to our own lives?

Liz and Mack are forbidden from attending prom together since they are both girls, and Liz’s sexuality almost prohibits her from running for prom queen. Are policies forbidding LGBT students from attending school events helpful or harmful? How do you think teachers and school administrators should respond to students who make homophobic slurs against their peers?

Additional Comments

The story focuses on being true to who you really are. This can sometimes be a good thing—such as when Liz refuses to let her race or economic status stop her from accomplishing her goals—but it can also be problematic since it encourages teens to follow an unbiblical understanding of their “truth.”

At first glance, You Should See Me in a Crown appears to be a cute, coming-of-age story about a teen wanting to be prom queen. But it’s much deeper than that. Author Leah Johnson attempts to tackle race, the disparities between rich and poor communities, anxiety disorders, the difficulties of taking care of a sick family member and losing a parent, and the discrimination faced by LGBT kids. And while the story can often feel relatable and inspiring, it’s also challenging because of its apparent villainization of anyone who doesn’t support Liz’s, and the book’s, agenda.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Emily Clark