This is My America by Kim Johnson
Random House Books, 2020, 416 pages
Trigger Warnings: Murder, racism, (off the page) lynching, anti-Blackness, police brutality, death of a parent
About the Author: “Kim Johnson held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of a historically Black sorority. This Is My America is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.” (Bio taken from author’s website.)
Tracy Beaumont is an unyielding high school junior determined to prove her father’s innocence while he is on death row. Every week for seven years she writes letters to the organization Innocence X whom she hopes will one day assist in exonerating her beloved father. In her fight to bring her father home, Tracy is met with another hurdle; her classmate was found dead and her brother Jamal is made the prime suspect. Now, she must work even harder to keep her family from falling apart. Tracy is a beacon in her community. She leads “Know Your Rights” workshops and writes about major issues in her column known as “Tracy’s Corner.” Even when faced with intimidation by police and white supremacists, Tracy does not give up. She is passionate and resilient and works tirelessly to protect the ones she loves and to inform her community about safety precautions in the face of police and police brutality.
Johnson’s novel delves into what families are left with after one of their own has been taken by a corrupt justice system and threatens to take another. Other topics include interracial relationships and stigma, intergenerational trauma, white passivity and general complicity. The Beaumonts’ story takes place in Texas, a place where law enforcement has a malign history fraught with violence. Kim Johnson does not shy away from this history especially when considering the prejudice the Beaumonts face as Black Americans.
Her novel is an examination of mass incarceration and wrongful imprisonment. She crafts a beautifully woven piece full of hope that demands change so that history dares not repeat itself. The character Tracy is a steadfast activist whom I adore and admire. The cast of secondary characters including Quincy, Corinne, Tasha, Dean, Steve, and the teens’ parents all captured my heart with their own complexities and personal turmoil. This is My America was everything and more; I was left in complete shambles. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and I cannot stress its value.
(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing us with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)
PRR Writer, Jackie Balbastro
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