Hello and welcome to our monthly Read the Rainbow discussion spotlight! Well it’s bimonthly this time because the more queer books and discussions we have the better 🙂
Read the Rainbow is a spotlight for queer books, authors and readers. Every month, I’ll be hosting an interview or discussion centered around a queer book. The interviews will be conducted with authors and the discussions will take place with #ownvoice readers for each book. Every month, I’ll be announcing the book of the month for Read the Rainbow so that everyone can read the book before the spotlight, although it is not a necessity.
Our first July BOTM is You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson featuring a black queer MC with anxiety along with a sapphic love interest, BIPOC side characters and a black brother with sickle cell anemia.
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?
I’m delighted to have Jenny and Jamel on the blog today to discuss You Should See Me In A Crown 🙂
As per usual the discussion remains spoiler-free.
Jenny (or Jen), she/her, identifies as pansexual/omnisexual. She’s 26 years old and lives in Hawaii, where she was born and raised. Jenny is mixed with Black, Filipino, and Chamorro (amongst other things) and will read almost any genre if the plot seems interesting, but mostly tends to read YA novels and NA/Adult romance.
Jamel (he/him) loves writing, playing games and talks about his own books and others on his website. He tends to stick to YA fantasy and sci-fi but loves reading outside of that too depending on the book. He’s bisexual.
1. Just from reading the blurb and looking at the cover what were your thoughts or expectations from this book? Did your expectations hold?
JENNY: The cover is beautiful and since it centers a Black woman (who is absolutely gorgeous btw), I was really looking forward to seeing that representation. The blurb made me think that I was about to read a sapphic hate-to-love novel. I actually started dancing in my living room as my partner read the blurb to me because I was so excited. It is sapphic with LGBT+/Black rep, but unfortunately it was not hate-to-love (one of my favorite tropes). Still really good though!
JAMEL: From looking at the cover and the blurb, I expected something very similar to the Henna Wars, except with prom, where Lizzie was going to have to essentially choose between her crush and her chance at winning prom queen. And almost sacrificing both in the process. A quintessential love story!
2. Which of the characters were your favourite and which side-character’s story would you like to see more of in maybe another companion novel?
JENNY: I always have a hard time picking favorites but if I had to choose, I’d probably choose Liz. She has a very go-getting attitude and I really loved that about her. She is also very complex and I’m glad the book is written in first person so that we could see more of who she is. As far as side characters, I definitely want to know more about Jordan. His story had so many interesting layers and we only saw a small portion of it.
JAMEL: My favorite character I’d have to say is probably Liz. I related to so much she was saying on a bunch of levels about music, being bi, futures, anxiety, and just so many other things that she was easily one of my favorites from beginning to end. Special shoutout also goes to Jordan for being our amazing male best friend. I’d say I want to see more about Quinn to be quite honest. We didn’t see too much of her backstory but I would love to follow her and see a bit more about how she first became friends with someone as awful as Rachel and maybe some other things that she’s seen/had to deal with/shove aside because she was so involved with Rachel and no one else outside of the popular kids liked her.
3. Without giving any spoilers, tell us about your favourite parts or scenes in the book!
JENNY: There are two parts that I immediately thought of. The first scene occurs after a character expresses some homophobic things out loud. Liz leaves the situation and the narration reads, “I don’t know if I’m running away from something or to it. All I know is that I’m tired, so incredibly tired, of having to run at all.” CHILLS.
The second part is one that I’ve seen on Twitter so you may be familiar with it already. Basically one of the school’s authority figures tells Liz that she could have the chance to be the first Black prom queen and Liz knows exactly what this microaggression means. In order to be somebody in their eyes, she has to play by their unfair rules. She remarks, “Campbell is never going to make a space for me to fit. I’m going to have to demand it.” Am I allowed to say CHILLS again?
JAMEL: Okay, my favorite parts of the book: one was definitely the first time that things got electric between Liz and Mack. I don’t know what it was about them connecting through the chaos of it all, but it just really stuck out and was really really cute.
All the moments that Jenny pointed, along with the big display that happened at the school, were really really amazing moments just pointing out how the racism and homophobia has just been so embedded in the town and in the prom tradition. It was so powerful and I was cheering so much at all the triumphs in those scenes mainly because I’ve seen them so, so many times.
4. What do you think of the LGBTQ+ representation and the way in which Liz had to suppress her identity?
JENNY: This particular topic is a strange one to me because while I have experience living in Indiana (I went to undergrad there), I thought I was straight at the time. I’m also mixed and since I’m from Hawaii, almost no one saw me as Black. Everyone there lumped me into the “Hawaiian category” even though I’m not even Hawaiian.
I will say that my undergrad was very white. A student even once told me that if you saw a Black person on campus, you assumed they were an athlete. So that wasn’t very welcoming. And even though I figured out my pansexuality 3 years ago, I still have only come out to a small handful of people in real life. I can definitely understand Liz’s need to suppress who she is in order to fit in. The world isn’t as accepting as people want you to believe.
JAMEL: The way Liz had to suppress her identity felt familiar to me because I’ve seen it so many times with all my friends, basically all of which are LGBT+, and some of which I’ve felt and thought about myself a ton since I realized I was bi last year. Having to hide aspects of yourself in order to ensure something that is really really important comes to pass is a major thing that so many queer people experience and it came out in the book (no pun intended) in a really good way that I especially loved, especially because it’s hit close to home for me a few times with me being scared particularly because of being black and bi and how that paints an even bigger target on my back.
5. You Should See Me In A Crown explored a lot of themes like anxiety, being true to yourself, love, family and acceptance. Which one did you love reading about the most?
JENNY: I think family is the one that I enjoyed reading about the most. Liz’s family is “broken” but also rock solid. They are very close and very loving. For me, it’s always nice to see YA novels where the family isn’t a hot mess. Call it escapism, idk.
JAMEL: The theme that I loved reading about the most, I’d say, is split between anxiety and being true to yourself. The anxiety felt like I was reading basically off of the page and into a part of my own life. I recognized even the little anxiety tics and ways that Liz tried to calm herself down because I’d measure my own pulse to help try and calm me down before I started medication (and subsequently had to struggle to come up with a new coping mechanism when that started to fail).
And I really loved the theme of being true to yourself because I’ve always been pretty bold and brash and excitable and out there about who I am and basically paraded around telling anyone on my university who would listen about me being bi the day after I found out what I actually was. It’s so important to be true to yourself and I love that the book explored that and will hopefully make it more possible for everyone, but especially black and black queer girls, to learn to do the same.
6. Describe the book’s vibe in three words.
JENNY: Heartfelt, fun, surprising.
JAMEL: Relatable, funny, adorable
7. If you could hold a crossover between the worlds of You Should See Me In A Crown and another book or series, which one would you choose and why?
JENNY: This book gave me a lot of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda vibes with the writing style and some of the plot points so I’d think I’d like to see that crossover. I know that book/series has questionable rep (I personally hated Leah on the Offbeat and found parts of the narrative very harmful) so I think a part of me hopes that exposing these characters to each other would mean that they would have the opportunity to learn and grow. Wishful thinking? Maybe.
JAMEL: The fairytale vibes of everything in this book just made me want to see a crossover between this and Cinderella is Dead or A Blade so Black. Liz and Alice would get on SO well and they relate in quite a couple ways that I could totally see Liz taking out some Figment Blades and trekking through Wonderland in search of Nightmares.
8. Lastly, if you were to write a short letter to either this book or the author, what would you write?
JENNY: Ha! I have way too much anxiety for that! It would probably say something incredibly weak like “Thank you so much for writing this book. Also your dedication in the beginning was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read” and then I’d spend the rest of my life wondering if Leah Johnson hates me now.
JAMEL: Hi, not a bi black girl, but a black Bi GUY (also with anxiety and other mental illnesses). I loved this book to pieces and I related to it and Liz in so, so many ways. The dedication, especially, was so great and I loved that Liz was black, bi, and had MI, something you don’t really see much of black people in books even though people like us with all of that exist and can and do have even more! Thank you for this book and I can’t wait for when I start teaching and I can have my students read it! It’s so important that they see people like us in books and I would be honored to have your book be one that they read.
Thank you Jenny and Jamel for such a wonderful and thoughtful discussion! I absolutely adored You Should See Me In A Crown and I’m so glad to see my sentiments being reflected in the bookish community. This book certainly deserves the hype it’s been getting 🙂
I hope you all will be back for our second discussion this month on I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee. Stay tuned for that!
Have you read You Should See Me In A Crown? If yes, what are your thoughts on it? If not, is it on your TBR?
What are some books that you feel deserve the hype they get?
Which queer book releases are you most excited for in the second half of 2020?