Book Review: This is My America by Kim Johnson

This is My America

Author: Kim Johnson

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

Publication Date: 28 July 2020

Genre: YA Contemporary

Length: 9 hours 34 minutes

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio

Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

This is My America is one of those books that as soon as I finished it, I needed to just walk away to compose myself because this book is an onslaught of emotions. This is also one of those books that should be required reading for everyone.

I’ll be honest, after reading the synopsis, I was a bit hesitant about picking this one up because I knew that this story would tear me apart, but what the author does so well as tackle timely issues with racial justice with grace all while delivering a truly addictive story that I could not put down.

In addition to the typical pressures that high schoolers are facing in that time period before college, Tracy Beaumont has the added weight of time ticking down to the execution of her father who is sitting on death row for a murder that took place seven years prior. Every week for seven years, Tracy has written a letter to Innocence X (similar to the Innocence Project) to take her father’s case. What Tracy doesn’t expect is for another murder to occur in her town, and now her brother Jamal stands accused.

There is a LOT to unpack in this book, and I will not be able to adequately do it in this review, so I at least want to hit on some of the key takeaways.

The author unapologetically puts mass incarceration of Black men front and center in this story as well as the consequences the families face as a result. Tracy’s family went from a two parent middle class household to a single parent household where they are struggling to make ends meet. We get an intimate look at how this has affected both Tracy and Lamar’s upbringing BUT, the worst part was that their younger sister NEVER met her father since their mother was pregnant when the arrest took place.

Another huge theme in this book is the generational trauma. The generational trauma of Black people was unsurprising. What I was not prepared for was the generational trauma of white people who are expected to uphold the racist beliefs within a family construct. This part of the book was incredibly difficult for me because I was angry and really wanted to offer no sympathy whatsoever. However, I do think that this is something that needs to be addressed and discussed more frequently in today’s society.

As far as characters go, Tracy is front runner of this book. She’s intelligent, fierce, loyal, and unwilling to give up on what she believes in. For a 17 year old, she is so rooted in her fundamental beliefs that I was in constant awe that she was a teenager. That being said, I think a lot of that has to do with what she’s had to endure and NOT to say that this is unrealistic.

I will be honest that there is a love triangle type of subplot in this book. There’s Dean, Tracy’s best friend and Quincy, a long time family friend. Dean is white and Quincy is Black. While I don’t think that a romance plot was needed in this book, I think the focus was meant to be more on the discussion of interracial dating and how the expectations for Black women versus Black men are vastly different. This is an ongoing discussion within the Black community, so from that aspect, I completely understood why it needed to be addressed, and I thought it was done well.

A lot of people are going to ask how this book is a different narrative to what we’ve seen with Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, but I promise you that This is My America is not like this books. There is a much needed space for this book, and I implore you to give it a chance.

Thank you to Get Underlined for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

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