This Is My America released at the beginning of a reckoning that’s been long overdue—the untended roots of race in America. These origins draw parallels not only to slavery and mass incarceration but to open wounds festering below the surface.
My novel was born from many early lessons on race as a Black girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Activism was survival. And sadly, the most painful lessons were my early introductions to (in)justice in action, from the acquittal of officers who brutally beat Rodney King in 1991 to my first march against police brutality in 1995. Twenty years later, the struggle continued with my six-year-old son experiencing the same trauma as he witnessed Eric Garner say, “I can’t breathe,” and my students at the University of Oregon protesting in the name of Black Lives Matter. These examples, and so many more, inspired me to write young adult stories that represent social issues as a vehicle for literary activism—a way to use the power of words to make change as readers step into the lives of characters that reflect the real world.
I intentionally wove a story that was about more than just a wrongful incarceration but a call to action with activism at the center. I crafted a tight-knit family within a community that could feel familiar to many readers. Tracy Beaumont, our heroine, is an unstoppable teen character, embodying the spirit of young activists and student leaders I know who are relentless, determined, and awe-inspiring. I wanted to inspire but also wrap up activism in a novel with a thrilling fight for justice—unflinching yet hopeful.
Through writing, my intent was also to expand the conversation beyond police brutality to the larger systemic issues of navigating the criminal justice system when you’re Black, brown, and poor. It was the inspirational reading of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson that gave me a blueprint of how to engage the reader with humanity. The Beaumont family’s story came to me as I read Bryan Stevenson’s words, “We are not the worst thing we have ever done,” and his belief that everyone deserves a fair and just interaction with the law. We cannot remain silent, not when over-policing and bias continue to heavily impact arrest and conviction rates.
What was burning inside me as a writer, a literal activist, was a call of the times, a desperate urgency to reach the masses so we can progress as a country. It has been an honor to know my work has been so well received, especially in the Pacific Northwest, the place I call home. Readers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers invigorate my purpose to write stories that will impact people in meaningful, emotional, and powerful ways. Through writing fiction, I continue to find hope for our future.