Published by Random House Children's Books on July 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Set in Galveston, Texas, Kim Johnson’s This Is My America follows Tracy Beaumont, a 17-year old African American who is on a mission to save her father, who is sitting on Death Row, convicted of a murder he did not commit. When the novel opens, he has less than one year before he’s put to death and so Tracy is running out of time. She has spent the past seven years writing weekly letters to Innocence X, an organization devoted to help those who have been wrongly incarcerated, pleading with them to take her father’s case.
The matter becomes all the more urgent when tragedy strikes the Beaumont family all over again. The local police arrive at the Beaumont house late one night with an arrest warrant for Tracy’s older brother Jamal. He is the prime suspect in the murder of Angela Herron, the editor of their school newspaper and also the white girl Jamal has been dating in secret. Jamal has no alibi and the sheriff’s son places him at the scene of the crime. Fearing he’s going to suffer the same fate as his dad, Jamal flees and refuses to come home until he can prove his innocence. With the clock ticking on both her father’s and her brother’s lives and still no response from Innocence X, Tracy decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands and starts looking for the evidence that will set them both free and save her family.
This story is hard-hitting on so many levels. As we follow Tracy on what turns out to be an increasingly dangerous journey to find the evidence that will exonerate her family members, the author unflinchingly explores so many tough and all-too-relevant topics, such as systemic racism, corruption in law enforcement, police brutality, the lingering existence of hate groups like the KKK, and the fact that without ample resources, a black person has little chance of successfully defending themselves in our legal system. The deck is just stacked against them. The author really drives her point home though by bringing us into the Beaumont home, where we meet and fall in love with Tracy, Jamal, their mom, and especially with their little sister Corinne, who at only seven years old, has never known her father as a free man. He has always been behind bars. Everything this family has gone through just had me in tears several times while I was reading, especially knowing that even though this account is fictional, the Beaumont’s situation is unfortunately a reality for too many families.
I don’t want to give away anything about the actual murder mysteries, so I’m just going to add that as powerful a read as this is because of its message about racial injustice, it’s also just a flat out fantastic read because the drive to find the real murderers is so riveting.
This Is My America is a hard-hitting exploration of the racial injustices that are so pervasive in American society. It’s a powerful read in that it will make you sad, angry, and frustrated at how little progress we as a society have made to stop the racial injustices, but at the same time, it’s a hopeful story. This is a book I’d love to see as required reading at the high school level because of its message that you’re never too young to start making your voice heard and that no matter how young you are, your voice can actually make a difference.