This Is My America
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, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Jason Reynolds won't want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.
Tracy's family is an outsider in multiple ways in their Texas town: they're one of the few Black families, they're relative newcomers (they settled there after being uprooted by Hurricane Katrina), and her dad was convicted of murdering two white people. He's on death row with less than a year until his execution date and he was wrongly convicted.Tracy will do anything to save him: ruin her brother's big TV interview, tangle with white supremacists, and even risk her own life. The girl has backbone for days, but it isn't something to praise. She's this way because the racism she saw and experienced made her this way. She should be able to enjoy her childhood, but systemic racism never let her have one in the first place.
God, this book is tense. The stakes are high, the danger Tracy is in because of her situation and her Blackness being all too real. The question is never whether her father really killed that couple or if her brother killed the girl he was seeing in secret; both guys definitively didn't. Instead, the question is whether Tracy can prove their innocence in such a way the racist local police force can't do anything about it. Toward the end, the story had me so gripped that I had to switch from the excellent audiobook to a print version. Narrators can only speak so fast and I can read a whole lot faster than that!
Omnipresent as it is, white supremacy is practically a character itself throughout the novel. The more uninformed, unaware folks say racism will die out with old people, but that isn't the case and This Is My America won't let you kid yourself about that. In contrast to police workshop-running Tracy, some of her classmates are big Blue Lives Matter supporters and are meeting in secret to form their own hate group. One of those kids? The sheriff's son. Later on, Tracy finds a photo of the Klan lynching a Vietnamese man. Included in the photo are the sheriff's father as well as the grandfather and mother of Drew, Tracy's best friend and semi-crush.
So no, racism won't just "die out." Unless white people in particular actively fight to end it, newer generations will inherit that hatred and continue it. I've seen it in 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn, the current youngest member of Congress who spouts hatred and has been accused multiple times of sexual harassment. I saw it the day Joe Biden was announced as the 2020 presidential election winner, when two boys who weren't even ten stood outside my neighborhood park with a big Trump banner in their hands. Without doing the work, we'll keep seeing the young adopt this hatred from the adults in their lives.
As far as I know based on historical records of lynchings in Georgia, my grandfather, a known member of the KKK in the mid-1900s, didn't participate in a documented lynching. However, his family had been living in the same tiny town since at least the early 1800s and there were several lynchings in that town in the late 1800s. Even if he didn't, his grandparents almost certainly did and he still engaged in a campaign of terrorism against the Black people around him.
The roots of my family tree were watered by the blood of the enslaved and the lynched and the terrorized, and I will never forget that. This Is My America is a novel you will never forget. It will make white readers have a self-reckoning and give everyone hope that racism can be defeated. We'll need everyone and everything we have, but we can do it.
I also recommend reading Johnson's author's note for her explanation of certain narrative choices she made. It will make you appreciate this future classic that much more.