Random House Books for Young Readers
Hardcover (also available in e-book and audio formats), 978-0-5931-1876-4, 416 pgs., $17.99
July 28, 2020
Seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont is coming of age the hard way. Her father is on Texas’s Death Row, facing execution within months for murders he says, and she believes, he did not commit. Tracy’s family, however, has run out of money for more court appeals and lawyers. And Tracy herself is getting no responses to the frequent letters she has been sending to a nonprofit group that tries to help “people wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Especially those in underserved communities.”
Set in Austin, Texas, Kim Johnson’s debut novel is a well-timed, well-written social-justice thriller aimed at young adults, though it should also appeal to older readers.
Tracy, the book’s first-person viewpoint character, is a high school journalism student and “Know Your Rights” workshop organizer. Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, has been both a good student and standout sprinter on his high school track team. Now, carrying his family’s battered honor, he’s preparing to go to college. But suddenly, soon after one of his classmates is found dead, Jamal goes missing. As the known “son of a murderer,” police quickly suspect he’s the killer.
While Jamal’s and Tracy’s mother struggles to cope with this new shock, Tracy realizes she must find the courage to push beyond writing impassioned letters and holding events. She must stand up to racism on her own and try to uncover clues the police might have overlooked while investigating the murder Jamal is alleged to have committed. At the same time, she also must keep trying to get legal assistance for her father.
Johnson’s smoothly-paced fiction pulls readers into her story with crisp sentences and quick glimpses of the conflicts and tensions that will keep building among key characters. She creates a realistic look at why many Black families, especially in a time of renewed racial and economic turmoil, place little faith in the purported fairness of America’s judicial and law-enforcement systems. And she makes sparing but effective use of contemporary cultural parlance in appropriate scenes.
“Jamal is in the same boat now, and things don’t look good,” Tracy tells herself. “But I have to believe I know my brother better than anyone. Then prove it to the world before it swallows him whole.”
Her book’s title, This Is My America, is meant to reflect the sense that African Americans and other minorities seemingly live in different nations than whites when encountering police, courts, and prisons. At the same time, Johnson’s new novel delivers a hopeful story central to America’s promises of freedom and opportunities for all. When family, friends, and supporters stand with you and you are willing to take risks for what you believe, one person can make a difference.
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 an 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.
You can find her @kcjohnsonwrites on Twitter and Instagram and her website www.kcjohnsonwrites.com.