Would you run for prom king/queen? There is nothing Liz Lightly would like less, but she’s willing to do whatever it takes to win a scholarship, even if it means facing her fear of the spotlight. With special guests, Hallie and Allie from the Read It, Next podcast, we chat about anxiety representation, cute romance, and the importance of seeing Black protagonists experiencing joy. We also chat about/get educated about prom culture.
Mental health issues covered: anxiety and panic attacks, and how they relate to a person’s experiences and the environment
Additional trigger warnings: homophobia/heteronormativity, chronic illness (sickle cell anaemia), death of a parent, racism
Listen to the podcast:
About the Book
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?
About the Author
Leah Johnson is an eternal midwesterner and author of award-winning books for children and young adults. Her bestselling debut YA novel, You Should See Me in a Crown, was a Stonewall Honor Book, the inaugural Reese’s Book Club YA pick, and named a best book of the year by Amazon, Kirkus, Marie Claire, Publishers Weekly, and New York Public Library. Leah’s essays and cultural criticism can be found in Teen Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan among others. Her sophomore novel, Rise to the Sun is forthcoming from Scholastic in 2021.
About Our Guest
Allie and Hallie are two 20-somethings with an obvious love for Ariana Grande and books. The two met years ago during their freshman year of college and bonded over their share passion of reading. They’ve taken their favorite hobby from reading in a dark dorm room to now sharing some of their favorite reads on their podcast.
While Read It, Next started as a quarantine passion project it’s become a place where the two friends can read, discuss and gossip about everything bookish.
Allie and Hallie give a full spoiler free review of their current read during the first half of their show, but be sure to stick around for the B-side portion. The two go over their favorite moments, fawn over hot book boyfriends and share personal anecdotes. The two promise to bring you a few laughs along the way!
Find Read It Next on their website, Twitter, and Instagram.
This is a lovely, adorable story with teen-movie vibes featuring a cute romance and great representation. The happy ending can feel a bit too neat. However, as our guests Hallie and Allie from the Read It, Next Podcast points out, it is important (and refreshing!) to have a book where a young Black female protagonist is not constantly experiencing trauma, and rather she is experiencing joy. We also think the story does a great job portraying friendships, both the sweet and bitter bits, and subverting some high school tropes (e.g. while there is a mean girl, the popular kids aren’t all bullies).
In terms of anxiety representation, we like that Liz’s anxiety is linked to environmental factors that she has to contend with, such as poverty and homophobia. Sometimes psychologists/therapy can focus overly on the individual changing their perspectives or their behaviours, but sometimes anxiety makes sense given someone’s circumstances. It was also nice to see Liz use some coping techniques through the story, like deep breathing and grounding. On the other hand, we wish we saw more of Liz’s actual thought processes that relate to her anxiety. We get a lot of descriptions of physical symptoms like her shaking hands and nausea, but there is limited insight to her thoughts despite being written in the first person, meaning we didn’t always ‘feel’ her anxiety. Her anxiety also seems to disappear by the end of the book. While this may be because her circumstances improve over the course of the story, anxiety sometimes persists in spite of what’s going on in your life, and often requires ongoing management. You can still have a happily ever after while managing anxiety!
Relevant mental health resources:
- BeyondBlue and headspace have useful information about anxiety and how to manage it.
- Mental Health First Aid Australia provides some tips on how to help someone who is experiencing a panic attack.
More stories like Picture Us in the Light:
- It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood has an excellent anxiety rep.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green does a great job depicting ‘thought spirals’. If you haven’t yet, check out our review all the way back in Season 1!
Voices from Lived Experience
Here are some of the views we found from reviewers who mentioned their own experiences with anxiety:
- Rae’s Reads and Reviews really appreciated the anxiety rep: “The anxiety rep is just *chefs kiss*, Liz and I even have the same twitch. The descriptions of panic attacks were really accurate. As someone who’s been battling with anxiety since middle school, I could really relate to those aspects of the story. It was really nice to see that in YA.”
- Tara from Smart Bitches Trashy Books: “Anxiety representation is another massive plus for me with this book. Liz lives with anxiety and it shows up through fidgeting and stomach problems, among others. As a person with anxiety who didn’t have the ability to even understand it until adulthood, I appreciated seeing a teenager who’s been given the help she needed. We see her using behavioural techniques to manage it in the moment, which will hopefully help some kids who read this book.”
On the TBR Pile
- If you have any recommendations of books that explore similar themes to You Should See Me in a Crown, let us know!