Today I learned there’s a Billie Eilish song that shares a name with Leah Johnson’s young adult novel. I have read the book, and I have not listened to the song. Should I?
Later. When I’m done writing this post. Maybe.
So. 2020 was awful. Eventually I’m going to stop talking about it altogether. But despite all the bad, good things DID happen. Not enough to make up for all the awful, but hey, we have to grasp onto any good we can find, right?
For me, books were a huge staple holding the year together. I read 156 of them. In 12 months. Read, listened, same thing, right? (2.5x audiobook speed, you’ll never go back.)
Without a doubt, You Should See Me In a Crown tops my list. And it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it because … you know. 2020.
It should be stated for the record that I am not a queer Black teenage girl, I’m not here to speak for anyone out there who is, and yet somehow I related harder to this story than anything I’ve read in … years.
Why? Because I, too, was once a teen struggling to figure out who she was while being told who I could and could not be.
Heck. I’m STILL struggling to figure out who I am. (I’m 28.)
And that’s the point. Of course I can buy a book to support an author even if I’m not its ideal audience. Even better if I can find value in it related to my own experience. That’s why writers write — to give people stories to take with them even after the book ends.
You Should See Me in a Crown is a story about a girl who feels she doesn’t “fit” anywhere — schools have cliques, and there isn’t just one that suits her.
At least, that’s the part of the story that resonates with me personally.
The beautiful thing about stories is that they often mean different things to different people. I’m a white woman who has never lived the Black experience, therefore this vital element of the narrative is not “for” me. I can appreciate it and listen to it and learn from it. But Leah Johnson was not thinking of me when she created Liz.
But because many teenagers do share common experiences despite their various backgrounds — imagine that! — books like these create opportunities for everyone to experience the same story and take away from that story what not only resonates with them, but what sticks in their minds as something they don’t want to forget.
I never have been, and never will be, targeted because of my race. But though I will never understand this experience firsthand, witnessing it through stories, which are in themselves reflections of real-world events, continuously pushes me to be the ally I have failed to be in years past.
I’m not ashamed to admit that it took some of the most devastating moments of 2020 to convince me to make buying, reading, and promoting books by Black authors and other underrepresented voices a priority. I’m not proud of it. But I do acknowledge that I should have been doing this years ago, and it’s my responsibility to continue to do it now.
But … I don’t need to keep adding my extremely white perspective to this conversation. I’m working to do better, and I hope you are too.
Young adult fiction has always drawn me in almost effortlessly. It’s my favorite genre of fiction to write in, and I’ve probably read more YA in the past decade than would be considered “healthy.” Sometimes it’s done well. Sometimes it isn’t.
Leah Johnson falls into the former category, if you hadn’t already guessed my opinion by now. Her prose is light, quick, and powerful. Her book’s pages can barely contain her dynamic characters. Each passing day of Liz’s life left me with no choice but to keep moving on to the next chapter, and the next.
I was sad to see it end.
If you’re as much of a softie for coming-of-age high school-centric narratives as I am, you will absolutely devour this book. I really do believe there’s something in it for everyone, even if you don’t personally relate to the main character on a spiritual level.
Above all, perhaps this story will remind you that the only person who gets to decide your place in this world is you.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you come from, or where you’re going. You can still discover new things about yourself and what’s most important to you.
My You Should See Me In a Crown experience screamed “you need to pay more attention to stories that aren’t fundamentally about you.” Which, though not necessarily the point of the book itself, was a wake-up call I’d been ignoring for years.
I’m more than grateful that I have the privilege to read the volume of material I do, and I hope to continue to yell about stories that are Exceptionally Good™.
Always seek out books you wouldn’t “normally” pick up.
Get out of your whitewashed comfort zone.
And tell your favorite authors how awesome they are.
If you’re going to
hoard collect books, at least make an effort to diversify your pretty shelves. It’s easy. Start with this one, and go from there.