COLOR THE SHELVES: Interview with Leah Johnson, author of You Should See Me in a Crown

Color the Shelves (24)

Hello friends and welcome to Color the Shelves!

You have NO idea how excited I am about today’s post. I read YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN a few months back and absolutely adored it, I also had the pleasure to chat with Leah before this interview and adored HER. She is such a kind, funny and beautiful person and ALL of that shows in her book: a rivals to lovers YA sapphic romance set around prom that subverts tropes, is funny, witty, heartfelt and emotional. It filled my heart with joy, which I think we (Black people) need after the more-than-usual hellish few days we had. I’ll speak on that in a post coming in the next couple days, whenever I find the energy to put my thoughts into words but TODAY we’re here to celebrate Black joy and to chat with Leah about her new release and everything wonderful about it.

Hi Leah, thank you so much for joining me today on Color the Shelves! YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN is about Lizzie, a super-ambitious Black girl who knows what she wants and refuses to let anything stop her, can you tell us more about your amazing main character?

Liz Lighty is a fiercely loyal, quietly ferocious girl from a small town in Indiana. Her main goal is to get out of her hometown and get to college, but when that plan is derailed by lack of scholarship money, instead of giving up, she does the thing that scares her the most: emerges from the shadows and fights for her dreams, loudly and eventually, proudly. She’s all heart, and as my friend Vanessa would say, she’s got a lot of chutzpah.

(Fadwa: I would like to let everyone know that I would die for her)

The book also subverts some of the most classic high school tropes, especially ones related to popularity, prom, etc… why was it so important for you to write about that?

You Should See Me in a Crown exists largely to subvert all of the ideas I was fed through so many of my favorite books growing up about who is worthy of being treated like a queen, who deserves to get the crown and the girl and the happy ending. It’s always been my goal to write into spaces in the genre that were largely empty when I was growing up.

I didn’t come out until my adulthood—didn’t even see a future in which being anything other than straight was an option—but I can only imagine what permission could have been granted to me and so many other kids if we’d seen more varied representation on shelves. If books show us what is and can be possible, then we need a wide array of stories to offer readers mirrors. I want the mirrors my books offer to reflect the totality of what complicated, beautiful, incredible, messy lives of possibility every kid deserves.

(Fadwa: This is so very relatable. I’m so glad teens now get to have these books)

What was your favorite part about writing it?

My favorite part of writing Crown was being able to explore my own identity and understanding of self right alongside Liz. (That was also the most difficult part, though!)

YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN also has a super cute sapphic romance i was very invested in. So in that vein, what are Lizzie and Mack’s top 5 dates?

Oh this question is so great. In my mind, Liz and Mack oscillate between the simplest dates in the world, and the more elaborate situations (like the concert they go to in the book). These are all extremely local, so bear with me:

  1. A picnic under the stars in one of the vast, green fields that line Campbell County with their favorite band playing from the speakers of Mack’s Jeep.

  2. A summer concert at White River State Park on the 4th of July that ends in literal fireworks. (I went to see Florence + the Machine here on the 4th so many years ago now but it remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in Indianapolis)

  3. They’d try to take a gondola ride in the Canal and then Mack would accidentally trip inside of the gondola and fall into the water. They’d both end up soggy and laughing and too happy to be embarrassed by the time it was over.

  4. A group outing to Speedway Indoor Karting wherein: Gabi loses and throws the biggest fit known to man, Jordan smokes everybody the entire race but lets off the gas at the last minute to let Mack beat him (while he pretends she totally won fair and square, Little Red), Liz drives her kart into the wall halfway through the first lap and never quite figures out how the freaking pedals are supposed to work, Britt thinks it’s bumper cars and just rams into everybody, and Stone sits cross-legged next to the finish line, trying to establish the aura of the track attendant.

  5. They ride bikes on the Monon Trail and end their trek with two chocolate chip cookie dough cones from BRICS. Liz gets some melted ice cream on her nose and Mack kisses it off and it’s the cutest thing anyone has ever seen.

Last but not least, what something you’d like to tell your readers or something you’d like them to take away from your book?

Liz Lighty is growing up in a town that is very small, very white, and very wealthy—all things Liz herself is not. She’s constantly surrounded by people reminding her whether implicitly or explicitly that they don’t believe she’s worthy of the same freedoms and privileges that they have. So she’s internalized shame, she’s espoused silence with survival, and she’s made herself small as a means of navigating her community. So I knew all of that needed to be part of Liz’s arc: shattering these expectations of the Good Minority, learning to take up space, figuring out what it means to enter every room as a whole person—all of that. I would like my readers to know that too. You deserve every crown, every happy ending. I promise.

(I’m not crying, you are)

About the author


Leah Johnson is a writer, editor and eternal Midwesterner, currently moonlighting as a New Yorker. She is a graduate of the fiction writing MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, and currently teaches in their undergraduate writing program. Leah is a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow whose work has been published or is forthcoming in BuzzFeed, Autostraddle, Catapult, and Electric Literature among others. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her on Twitter, ranting about pop culture and politics. You Should See Me in a Crown is her first novel.

About the book

Leah Johnson - You Should See me in a Crown

Publication date : June 2nd, 2020

Publisher : Scholastic

Genre : Young Adult | Contemporary

Page Count: 336

Synopsis: 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?

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The gorgeous banner template was created by Skye @shuurens on Twitter. Here’s her website and portfolio.

That’s it until next time.

Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.


10 thoughts on “COLOR THE SHELVES: Interview with Leah Johnson, author of You Should See Me in a Crown

  1. Such a fantastic interview, Fadwa! I am so glad you loved this book – it sounds positively delightful! I don’t normally read contemporary but I am actively working to broaden my reading horizons outside of SFF, so this has been added to my library hold list.


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