Book Review: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

I have been on a contemporary YA kick lately, and I have no regrets. You Should See Me in a Crown is a fabulous, joyful book that also deals with real issues, like all the very best YA novels.

Liz is an intelligent, determined Black girl in a mostly white Midwestern town. She’s also a lesbian. She does everything she can to keep people from noticing her, because she’s just trying to get through high school and out into the real world. And then her scholarship doesn’t come through, she needs money to make college a reality, and she realizes she’ll have to run for prom queen.

I know people are always saying we need more books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters just living life, not necessarily struggling to come out, but I think this one is important. It isn’t just about Liz coming out as a lesbian. It’s about the intersectionality that complicates that. I’m sure there are other great books that also talk about this issue, but this is the first one I’ve come across, and as a bookseller, that says something. This book has an important place on shelves.

On top of that, though, it’s just a great book. There is struggle, but there is also a lot of joy. It’s definitely about being a young Black lesbian from a low income family in an area where all of those things are in the minority, but it’s also just the story of a young woman coming into her own. It’s gorgeous and it’s fun and I loved it.

Disclaimer: Link is a Bookshop affiliate link. I received the ARC for free for review in my job as a bookseller.


I grew up in a white, upper middle class family in a neighborhood in a community where we didn’t talk about race. In our area, it was easy to pretend race wasn’t an issue. We’re in a diverse suburb of a metropolis that, at least at the time, didn’t have any blatant issues with racism. Kids I went to school with got bullied and made fun of for all sorts of reasons, but even with adult hindsight, never for race that I was aware of. I grew up thinking all people were equal and that everyone treated them that way.

It wasn’t until I started seeing things in my job like the We Need Diverse Books movement that I realized that how things appeared in my little life is not at all how things are strategically. I started making a point to read more diversely, about race, gender, sexuality, religion, everything.

Then I happened across Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. While not specifically about antiracism, it does talk a lot about unconscious bias, which for me was a comfortable way to ease into looking at the way I look at the world from my privileged lens without feeling attacked or terribly exposed. If you’re just finding that you, too, maybe didn’t realize your own privilege and want to explore it, this book is an excellent starting point.

As for racism and antiracism specifically, I was fortunate to get to see a panel where Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi discussed Stamped, the young adult adaptation of Mr. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, and get an ARC of it. I’m sure the adult text is excellent, but the YA adaptation was written in language it was easy for my adult brain that wanted to resist the idea that I had been benefiting from racism regardless of my personal beliefs to grasp. It’s about the not speaking up, the not seeking out, and the refusing to see.

I am not a racist. But I also have not done anything in my life about racism. I have not protested, or written to politicians, or reached out to Black community members when I know they’re hurting over another egregious reminder that America is not safe for them like it is for me. I am trying to do better, and I am starting at home.

Right now is a scary time for a lot of reasons, and I feel like I’ve been talking to my boys about a lot of heavy things in a rapidly changing reality. But I am raising little white men, and I do not want them to grow up to be the men Black parents have to warn their children about.

I had another conversation yesterday with Big Brother about how unfair it is that we never had to have a talk with him about how to address police officers so that they don’t maybe kill you, that the two of us, prior to the last two boys’ births, used to walk a neighborhood we didn’t even technically live in at night with no fear at all, that when he was young and I was a single mom on welfare, I was embarrassed because I’d grown up in a family that didn’t need it, but wasn’t the least bit worried that my family would be used as a statistic to say that our race was somehow less than another because I needed the help.

Antiracist Baby, also by Ibram Kendi, releases in June, and I’ve preordered it as a way to introduce the subject to my littler sons.

I know it’s not enough. It will never be enough. But I am doing my best to do better, and that’s the input place I know to start.

*Disclaimer: All links are Bookshop affiliate links.

Review: The Human Son by Adrian J. Walker

I could not read today, you guys. I know there’s been a lot of that going around for stress-related reasons, but I couldn’t read today because I am still stuck in The Human Son. I cannot remember the last time I couldn’t start a new book because I was so busy reflecting on the last one.

First things first, I read this book for my Post-Apocalyptic Preparedness Book Club. So, obviously, it’s post-apocalyptic. I’ve been digging these books generally through my personal pandemic experience. They make the real world seem refreshingly light.

This one happens to be set 500 years after human extinction, brought on by climate change ruining the world. In an effort to course correct, a scientist genetically created beings similar to humans that would be able to figure out what was causing the catastrophic things in the world and stop it. Unfortunately, these beings decided the main problem was humans. However, they promised to bring humans back once the Earth was okay. 500 years later, things are stabilized, and they have to decide if they’re going to keep that promise. The plan: Create one human child, raised among them, and see if he is capable of being a good custodian.

This one hit me as a mother. Even as a mother among a society of humans, the spot-on description of how isolating it is to be solely responsible for a tiny person got me. And then how, even though they upend your whole world, you love them more than you thought it was possible to love. This book is gorgeous and thought-provoking and heart-breaking and so hopeful. I adored it and I cannot move on.

This is definitely a book for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, but also for people who love tiny humans of their own. I have nothing in my reading history to compare it to. Everyone should read it.

Disclaimer: Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Review: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

You guys, I finished a book! Last I checked in, I wasn’t even reading because I couldn’t focus. I’m not going to lie, there are small chunks of this book I just entirely missed. The one downside to audiobooks is that when you realize your mind glazed over a few minutes ago, it’s harder to find the last part you remember than in a physical book. But I did really hear most of it, and now I’m reading again.

A note on the narrator: She’s lovely and soothing. Maybe don’t listen to this one cuddled up in bed, unless you need the help falling asleep right now.

I read The Hive when it came out and adored it, so when Gill Hornby’s newest book was offered to booksellers for review, I had to have it. This is a very different novel, since The Hive is a contemporary novel about the politics among school mothers and Miss Austen is a historical imagining of the life of Jane Austen’s sister. But they feel similar, in that they’re both kind of quiet novels about relationships and misunderstandings between women.

I really liked this book, and it’s a really good read for right now. The drama is all calm and interpersonal; there’s no high-stakes, dire intrigue. It’s interesting, and based on a real historical figure, so it does hold your attention. It’s quiet and mostly uplifting.

Miss Austen is definitely for fans of The It Girls, Jane Austen’s works, and even books like North by Northanger.

Disclosure: Most links are Bookshop affiliate links.

The Care and Keeping of Me

We have been incredibly lucky. Until today, my husband’s and my jobs were totally unaffected by the pandemic; they were perhaps a bit busier than normal. We have everything we need, and so far my children have not gone without anything. We are all healthy. I am in that gratitude.

But per a county “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, my little bookstore closed its doors for the time being yesterday. For now, it looks like ten days. Ten days is nothing. Ten days is probably not enough.

The store owner is an incredible woman. We are all being encouraged to think outside the box in terms of staying of service to our community and our business in this trying time. We are allowed to work from home in creative pursuits for this period and planning for the celebration when we reopen. She is supporting us in any way she can. So many do not have that right now. I am in that gratitude.

Husband did a wonderful job of entertaining the little brothers today so that I could fit in eight hours of work while in the home. I was able to cook a full breakfast this morning, nurse Little Brother as he needed it, have our favorite Italian lunch weekend-style with Middle Brother, cook dinner and eat with the family, take part in bedtime, and still get some real work done, including a virtual storytime with no screaming in the background. I am in that gratitude.

People who are not even regular customers are going out of their way to support our little business. A couple even let a total stranger pick out entertainment for their families and ship it sight unseen for their social distancing periods. The world still values booksellers. I am trusted to do my job well. I am in that gratitude.

The very best kind of friend stopped by and dropped off pies and lattes for us. She even stayed and chatted for a bit from a respectable six feet away. She brought warmth and companionship in a difficult time. I am in that gratitude.

Despite all this, there is still an unmanageable amount of anxiety. I won’t go into all the reasons; you all feel it on some level. We are really all in this together. So, in between all the things to be grateful for, I still have to work in some much-needed self care. What that looks like for me today: a long shower, allowing myself that burst of pride when someone is thrilled by my selections for them, telling my brain to shut off the business and enjoy some time with my boys, refusing to sit in guilt that I’m still not reading right now, marveling at my wonderful children, calling every number in my phone and not feeling bad about it, sitting with my anxiety and gratitude together.

This is just the beginning, and I intend to be here at the end, healthy and happy and whole. Take care of yourself. You should be, too.

Review: Cuddle Monkey by Blake Liliane Hellman

Cuddle Monkey is an adorable picture book. Lewis really loves to cuddle, and these are his adventures in search of the cuddles. The pictures are sparse, but cute. It’s just the right amount of words for the younger set. I don’t know about your kids, but my boys are all world champion cuddlers, so they can certainly relate to the content. I really enjoyed this as a read-aloud.

Disclosure: Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Review: Good Night Unicorns by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper

I love this little board book. Good Night Unicorns goes throughout the day with, you guessed it, unicorns. The pictures are bright and engaging enough for Little Brother. There’s just the right amount of words for Middle Brother. Especially in this very weird time, it’s a soothing book for the little ones in your life. There’s also a lot of non-unicorn things in the pictures to have your little ones look for to keep them interacting.

Disclosure: Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

You haven’t been seeing a lot of posts from me lately. You haven’t been seeing them because I haven’t been reading. I’ve been listening to music in the car instead of my audiobooks. I’ve been looking at social media in the evening instead of reading my physical books.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The bookstore has been crazy busy, which we’re grateful for, yet always mindful of what that means in a scary time. There are never very many customers in at once and we sanitize constantly. It’s hard to know the right thing to do in terms of best supporting our community right now, so we’re keeping our ears and hearts open to make that choice every day. At the end of the day, I’m physically and emotionally tired in a way that just being a mom didn’t exhaust me. I didn’t know I had new levels of tired to reach.

I am a little anxious, and I do mean a little. There are no panic attacks; I’m not unable to do the daily things that need to be done. But in any spare moment I’m wondering if I should be planting a vegetable garden to make sure I have some fresh produce for my family, or if we do have to completely quarantine if people will want to come out and socialize again when this is all over, or if this goes on for months or years, what will the economy look like? what will become of the small businesses I love, the one I work for included?

Things that used to be quick stops on the way home are monumental tasks right now. Grocery run? Try grocery crawl, probably including someone crying and someone screaming. Even the convenience stores aren’t convenient today.

I’m just having trouble finding the time, energy, and focus for my most beloved pastime right now.


I am loving my boys with every fiber of my being in every moment. I cannot get enough of them. I have always loved my children, but I am appreciating them in a different way because of this. Life is changing, whether it turns out to be temporary or not. They are growing up in a world where being able to find milk or bananas or eggs in a supermarket is not a given. They are living, young as two of them are, in a time when they can’t have playdates. There are no movies or restaurants with playgrounds or zoos to go to.

We are not social distancing as drastically as some families may be, because I am still working with the public, so I will probably be our point of exposure. We do run errands together, supporting local even more strongly than we always have, and visit our close relatives. Middle Brother’s daycare is still open to date, so he does have some time with friends.

But we are spending a lot more time at home, just our little family, and as scary as times may be, I am loving it. I am trying to stay in that gratitude as much as I can. When I do get around to that vegetable garden, we’ll all be out in the yard, and Middle Brother will be “helping”. We play a lot of Monster Dinosaur, which is basically just chasing each other around roaring. Little Brother has started trying to play. My boys are all so funny in very different ways: Big Brother has some fantastic snark, Middle Brother plays tricks, Little Brother makes the funniest sounds just because he knows I’ll laugh and he likes it. I’m staying in this right now, because this family is my home and it grounds me.

Reading is a great escape, and I’ll need that again soon, I’m sure. At the beginning of all this, though, when everything still seems so uncertain, I need the unshakeable foundation we are for each other. I need this love, and it needs me. There will be plenty of time for the other.

Review: Where We Go from Here by Lucas Rocha

Where We Go from Here is a powerful debut novel about three gay teens in Brazil dealing with HIV in various ways. The author spent some time working with a nonprofit that dealt with distributing antiretroviral medications in Brazil, which got him to thinking about all the damage done by public misconceptions about the disease.

This is not an issue I have dealt with on any level in my personal life, so I can’t really attest to how true to life the characters’ experiences are. But it felt very realistic. More importantly for me, it got me thinking about what people in their positions go through, both in the characters and extrapolating into other experiences in real life. There is still a lot of stigma associated with HIV, and I’d never considered what people who are positive go through outside of the disease itself.

I am so glad I read this book, and I cannot wait to put it in the hands of other readers. It’s due to publish June 2, 2020.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in my job as a bookseller. Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Review: Lakewood by Megan Giddings

First off, I listened to this book as an audiobook, so a note on the narrator: She narrated a middle school child on Look Both Ways, which I listened to not that long ago, so it took me a long time to not think of this book’s main character as a child. She does a fantastic job, though, and once I got past that mental thing, it was good.

Lakewood is a novel about medical experimentation on black Americans. I am not going to say I loved this book or that it was entertaining or unputdownable, because those things are not true. It made me incredibly uncomfortable. I took long breaks between listening. What I will say is that it was graphic and visceral and I couldn’t not finish it. It was an important read in the way that The Handmaid’s Tale and The Warehouse are important reads. So, while it was kind of a miserable experience, that was the point. And I don’t know about you, but discomfort is how I grow. It means I’m looking at something I’ve avoided looking at.

This is the book to read if you want fiction to read alongside The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or if you just want to get to intimately know a part of the human experience that is not yours. It’s powerful and feels so real.

Disclaimer: Some links are Bookshop affiliate links.