A High-Stakes, Anxiety-Inducing Mystery to Read in February

Book cover of This is My America by Kim Johnson

This is My America by Kim Johnson

This work of young adult fiction is incredibly heavy and an absolutely absorbing read. Our protagonist is Tracy Beaumont, a Black teenage girl whose father, James Beaumont, is in prison. James Beaumont was wrongly accused of murder, and at the beginning of the book, he has 275 days before he will be executed. The book is told from Tracy’s point of view, and interspersed with the chapters of prose are Tracy’s weekly letters to Innocence X, a nonprofit legal organization that helps to prove the innocence of people who have been incarcerated. They only accept requests via handwritten letters, and Tracy has been writing weekly for seven years.

Tracy is a high school junior and lives with her mother, her older brother Jamal (a senior who runs track), and their little sister Corinne. Tracy is involved with the school newspaper and also runs a Know Your Rights class at the local community center in the Houston, Texas, suburbs where they live. Flash forward, and there has been a murder, and Tracy’s brother Jamal has been accused.

This book is not only a tale about police brutality and abuse of power but also the insidiousness of white supremacy — not only the blatant KKK history of the town this takes place in but on the micro level as well. On top of all this, it’s a high-stakes, anxiety-inducing mystery. Tracy is simultaneously trying to get help for her father while also trying to prove her brother’s innocence and keep him from facing the same possible fate. Of course, she is also trying to keep herself from being harmed by the police. Just to make things more complicated, she’s trying to manage friendships and relationships as a teen because it’s not like all those things stop when something larger is going on.

I have a lot of content warnings for this book: murder, anti-Black racism, including discussion of lynching and cross burning, anti-Asian racism, and an incarcerated loved one.

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