For many years, I’ve watched in horror at how Black people are mistreated in America, especially in encounters with police and incarceration. I’m appalled that these injustices continue, but I’m happy there is at least a silver lining now as support for Black Lives Matter has grown over the past few months. It’s also encouraging to see more diversity and representation in media.
One example of this growing diversity that I was eagerly awaiting is This is My America, the debut novel by Kim Johnson. It was one of my most anticipated books of this summer, and I’m so grateful to have won it in a giveaway a few weeks ago. Thank you to Storygram Tours and Get Underlined for sending me this glorious book!
After reading some eye-opening nonfiction on racial justice – including How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – it was high time for me to dive into some fiction highlighting these themes. This is My America is an excellent novel that brings readers into a very real scenario.
Tracy Beaumont is only 17, but she knows all too well what it means to have precious time rapidly running out. Her father was wrongfully convicted of murder seven years ago, and he now has less than a year left on death row before he’ll be killed. But Tracy won’t let this go down without a fight, and every week she writes a letter to Innocence X, an organization that helps families – without the financial means – to free innocent inmates. She needs them to take her dad’s case before it’s too late.
Then one day, her older brother Jamal is accused of murder. She knows he’s innocent, but how can she prove it? It doesn’t help that Jamal is on the run, terrified to be caught and put on death row just like his father.
This is My America follows Tracy as she does everything within her power to save both her father and her brother. An aspiring journalist and activist, she’ll investigate and push for the truth until she’s set them both free.
Right off the bat, let me say: Wow, this is a powerful book! And it’s YA, no less. It’s great to see such thought-provoking, empowering, and important stories presented to younger audiences.
The over-arching story of This is My America is all too relevant, especially this year with the increased attention on police brutality and incarceration. But as Black Lives Matter surges in popularity, now is an excellent time for more people to read stories like this one, stories that shine a light on the very real problems facing African Americans and how it affects them day to day.
I love that this novel puts attention on such an significant topic. It does a superb job of attaching lives and emotions to issues that can feel distant when you don’t encounter them yourself. Reading This is My America, I really felt for Tracy and her family. I can only imagine the pain they face – the pain so many face – and this novel captures the Beaumont family beautifully.
Tracy is an especially strong character. I love that she never gives up hope; she keeps writing her letters each week, keeps pushing to find the truth even when others have given up and want her to give up, too. She’s tenacious, resourceful, and truly brave.
Moreover, Tracy springs to action. On top of writing her newspaper column on social justice issues and hosting Know Your Rights workshops to keep people safe during encounters with the police, she’s also ready to do her own investigating if it means freeing her dad or brother. Her snooping reminded me of my childhood Nancy Drew obsession, but in Tracy’s case, it felt like there was more on the line.
Kim Johnson does a wonderful job with bringing the rest of the cast to life, too. Each character is unique and fleshed out, never falling into tired stereotypes. Tracy’s two friends, Dean and Quincy, are both nuanced and dependable. From her immediate family, to the people helping out with the cases, to the villains, each character made the novel feel vividly real.
Another strength of This is My America is the examinations of relationships in the face of trauma. Tasha and her family show how difficult it can be to fit back together after reuniting. In contrast, the Beaumont family shows remarkable strength even with the odds stacked against them. And while they all put on a strong front, there’s tenderness and fear lurking underneath. It’s heartbreaking.
We also get a close look at white allyship and how a relationship – whether friendly or romantic – can play out. As much as Dean cares for Tracy and respects her family, he has valid fears about his own upbringing and learned racism. Can he truly understand race issues and how they affect her family and so many other people of color? Can he truly help despite this chasm between them?
White supremacists play a role in this book, another theme driving home the issues of racism in our country. It’s heavy, but it’s also something we can’t ignore, especially in Trump’s America.
This is My America moves through a lot of painful plot points and themes, giving readers a clear view of a family continuously impacted by racism, fear, and rapid countdown. It’s powerful and eye-opening, but also hopeful.
I literally cried at the end of this book. But from sadness or from joy? You’ll have to read to find out why.
This is My America is an excellent book, and it deserves to be widely read, by adults as well as teens. It displays a lot of heart and a lot of truth, making for an impactful read. I’m so thankful to have won a copy, and I look forward to reading more from Kim Johnson.
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