Author Interview: Leah Johnson

Becky Albertalli meets Jenny Han in You Should See Me in a Crown, a smart, hilarious, Black girl magic, own-voices rom-com by a staggeringly talented new writer. We spoke with author Leah Johnson about her inspiration, the narration of her audiobook, and more.

“You know when a book is like the ideal friend? You Should See Me in a Crown is that kind of book. Juicy, sharp, romantic, big-hearted, real. I loved it.”

Anna Godbersen, author of the New York Times bestselling Luxe series

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

You Should See Me in a Crown is about a girl named Liz Lighty who wants to escape her small (and small-minded) Midwestern hometown and go to her dream college. When Liz’s financial aid falls through, she has no choice but to run for prom queen in hopes of winning the scholarship attached to winning the crown. But when Liz starts to fall for her competition, will she choose the girl of her dreams or her dream of getting out?

I was heavily inspired by queering the quintessential John Hughesian image of the “All-American” high school experience, and past that, the All-American girl. If the stereotypical prom queen is white, wealthy, and “perfect,” then in this book I wanted to put a girl in serious contention for the crown who is Black, hopelessly awkward, deeply anxious, and contending with what it means to grow up in relative poverty. And she’s still going to be worthy of it all. I’m interested in writing into the empty spaces I saw in YA as a teen, and I hope You Should See Me in a Crown does that well.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

Alaska Jackson, the actress behind bringing the book to life, is such a vivacious presence. She manages to captures Liz’s wry humor, her fear, and her moments of triumph with the exact right energy. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have her voice as the one people hear when they imagine Liz Lighty.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I’m not traditionally an audiobook listener, but I’ve started listening to a lot more over the past few months as I’ve struggled to focus on hard copies. Some of my favorites are Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, and Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

Independent booksellers are at the heart of publishing. Their passion is what puts books into the hands of the people who need them the most, and breathe life into titles that no algorithm would think to champion. I owe the continued careers of many of my favorite authors to indie booksellers.

Header photo by Reece T. Williams

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