This Is My America reminds me of if you crossed The Heartbeats of Wing Jones with The Hate U Give with Just Mercy. At the center of the story are two murder mysteries. While seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont is consumed by getting Innocence X (clearly a stand-in for The Innocence Project) to take up the appeal of her father, a wrongfully-convicted man on death row, her brother Jamal ends up the primary suspect in the murder of their classmate and his sort-of girlfriend, Angela. In order to prove the innocence of the men in her family, Tracy has to uncover an ugly truth that Angela stumbled on—the one that likely got her killed. There’s also a love triangle in this book for readers who are into that sort of thing (not me), but even romance aside, This Is My America is a thought-provoking page-turner that young adult readers and adults can both enjoy.
Back in June, I watched a panel from the Juneteenth Book Fest called “Capturing the Moment: What it Means to Write Black Stories Right Now.” A point that stuck with me, made by Angie Thomas if I’m remembering correctly, is that there are a lot of books out right now for young people that include elements about white supremacy and police brutality, but these books also have a lot more to say about Black people’s lives and experiences and so it is reductive to only focus on the parts relevant to current events. For example, in The Hate U Give, Starr is really into her sneakers. There are elements that focus on Black joy and family life that should not be overlooked.
This Is My America directly engages with many topics that connect to the broader theme that Black Lives Matter. Tracy teaches workshops on knowing your rights and what to do when you get pulled over. Although Johnson changes their names, she references cases of people such as Kalief Browder. The Klan ends up being a large part of the latter half of the novel, whereas the first half focuses a lot on the racism involved with the death penalty. There are many important issues for young people to think about as they read this book: police brutality, capital punishment, intergenerational trauma, how White people can cope with racist violence in their family’s history, and being a better ally. There are also prominent themes about courage, the moral responsibility to speak up, friendship, and family. Plus, the story features really sweet family moments, particularly between Jamal and his little sister Corinne. And there’s a murder mystery involving student journalists and teen girls acting like Nancy Drew. It’s a great, compelling book that I highly recommend.