You Should See Me In a Crown (2020) by Leah Johnson is so good!! Liz Lighty, senior at a suburban Indianapolis high school, band geek, straight-A student, lives with her grandparents in a small town on the outskirts of Indianapolis that feels very familiar. Her mother has passed away, and her brother is often sick with the same sickle cell disease that killed her mother. They are two of the few black kids in their school, which is often difficult, and Liz can’t wait for college and to get started on her dream of becoming a doctor.
But she gets bad news when the scholarship she’s counting on doesn’t materialize, and she doesn’t know how she will get to go to college without it. Then she realizes that becoming prom queen comes with a scholarship that would fill the gap she needs. She has the grades locked down, and if she can participate in all the activities and get her bestie to help with a winning communications strategy, could she actually win?
Liz is a great character–we find out she’s queer, but only out to her friends, until she hits it off with the new girl who is also running for prom queen. She also deals with anxiety, openly with her friends, who help her manage it. Could her small town actually embrace a black, openly queer, band geek prom queen?
It’s super cute, and very funny while not avoiding difficult topics like racism, mental illness, grief, and mean girl cruelty. One of my favorite quotes:
In a concert band, you’re arranged into sections so that the instruments and sounds in your ears are the most similar to your own–so that what surrounds you is you, to a degree. It’s easier to know your clarinet part when you’re not fighting against a cello on one side and a tuba on another. High school friend groups are something like an ensemble in that way. My friends are certified oddballs, the inkblots on an otherwise pure white page, and it’s why we work together so well. Because as long as they’re my people, as long as they’re on my left and on my right, sometimes I can forget that I don’t fit in anywhere else in this town.Leah Johnson, You Should See Me In a Crown
And it was completely weight-neutral. There was no mention of fatness or any character’s size, really. I would have loved one or more of the characters to have described themselves as fat, but I’ll take weight-neutral in an otherwise stellar YA, queer novel.