“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?”
Well, this was as delightful as everyone said it was. Liz Lighty is a breath of fresh air. She’s queer, Black, and so damn charming. Leah Johnson takes the old prom queen trope and invigorates it with new ideas, new characters, and a heaping helping of social commentary.
Liz enters the prom queen competition solely as a cash grab. While in the running she meets Mack, an overly chatty transfer student who makes her heart go boom. The feeling is mutual. But with Liz’s bestie Gabi getting more and more intense about winning the crown, the antagonism between Liz and her arch nemesis Rachel heating up, her relationship with ex friend Jordan sparking up again, her brother’s chronic illness, and the looming threat of finances, it may all be a little too much for one high school senior to handle on her own. Liz herself is a bundle of teenage wit, trembling anxiety, and epic frustration. She is old enough to know when the deck is stacked against her but young enough to not quite know what to do about it.
Johnson juggles all of those plot lines well, with none overwhelming the story or characters. We get a range of racial diversity – and specifically of Blackness – that felt not only necessary but true to the real world. And coexisting with all that diversity is, of course, oppression. Liz confronts a principal who insists on heteronormativity, queerphobia, racism, and misogynoir. Which, again, feels both necessary and true to life. Johnson is a talented writer; I look forward to whatever gifts she has for us in the future. Teens are going to love this book and its message. This is going to live on my rec list for a long time coming.
Buy it at Bookshop.org (affiliate link)