Kim Johnson author post
As a teen, I couldn’t find characters in fiction who represented me. I went from being an avid reader, making weekly visits to the library, to feeling that books had become a chore. In fact, I went through my entire schooling not recalingif I had everread a book by a Black author until I went to college. Now, as an author and educator, I have made it my life’s work to help Black kids feel seen and supported. I strive to encourage the passions of young people and provide a space for them to dream—whether they dream of achieving in the classroom or working to change the world. In my almost twenty years as a higher education administrator working toward access and equity, I have served as a community member, advisor, and mentor to student activists and leaders, supporting them as they explore their purpose and promise.
My students were the ones who inspired me to write young adult literature. Working with Black students at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, I recognized the need for a deeper understanding of systemic racial issues. Each year I welcomed new cohorts of students who were about to be exposed to critical issues in society for the first time—and they felt cheated that they had not learned about these things before college. After reading about the inspirational work of Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy, I felt called to use my platform to write a novel about what I consider to be the most critical issue of our time: racial justice and equity.
In This Is My America, I tell the story of a young Black teen engaged in activism that directly impacts her life, so teens like her can see themselves on the page. In order to do this well, I crafted the novel about a teen, her amazing family, and her remarkable friends, using them as a vehicle to explore complex issues around race, justice, and the brokenness of our prison-industrial complex. Teens are intelligent readers who can manage difficult concepts if given an opportunity to engage. My hope is that teen readers will rip through this thrilling story, then read it again to picture themselves in the shoes of every character, experiencing each of their lives. Tracy. Jamal. Corinne. James. Quincy. Tasha. Dean. And when they finish, I hope this novel will leave readers inspired, ready to be a voice for change.
But This Is My America is not only for justice seekers. This story merges my activism with my love of mystery, and my determination to differentiate right from wrong, to seek justice and equality. I hope readers who love a good mystery or a gripping thriller will also find This Is My America entertaining and engaging—and I hope they discover that the Beaumont family represents the experiences of too many Black families, that hopes and dreams can be disrupted at any moment.
For educators and librarians, I hope you view this as the perfect book for those wanting to explore social justice or seeking characters on the page who look like them. We need to extend the representation of Black writers and characters across genres such as mystery. This Is My America is not only about race. It is a gripping whodunit, perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus, Kara Thomas, E. Lockhart, Kit Frick, and Courtney Summers. It is full of adventure and mischief, and has a standout heroine to route for.
Young adult books to compliment this story include Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (Discovering Wes Moore is the YA version), Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, and both Dear Martin and its much-anticipated follow-up, Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone. I also recommend You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, The Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds, and Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. In terms of mystery and thrillers, I have loved all of the works by Stephanie Kuehn, E. Lockhart, Kara Thomas, Lamar Giles, and Megan Miranda. The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson and Accidental by Alex Richards covered gun violence in brilliant and respectful ways. And as I work on my next novel, I am reading some wonderful historical fiction mysteries by Monica Hesse and Simone St. James. And novels like Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha and The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed explore the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising that resulted from police brutality against Rodney King and complement each other well.
Thank you for reading This Is My America.
This Is My America By Kim Johnson
“Incredible and searing.” —Nic Stone, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin
The Hate U Give meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting first novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.
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?