The Hate U Give meets Just Mercy in This Is My America, an unflinching yet uplifting first novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system. We spoke with author Kim Johnson about her inspiration, the talents of her audiobook’s narrator, and more.
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of Ferguson protests that emerged from not only the murder of Mike Brown, but Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, and generations upon generations of Black people disproportionately targeted, profiled, and over-sentenced.
After reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, it inspired me to use young adult literature to tackle the systemic issues in our criminal justice system. Bryan Stevenson so poignantly says, “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” I wanted to explore the question further: If our system can convict innocent people and sentence them to death, then what are other egregious errors in our system?
As a teen, I didn’t have characters in fiction who looked like me or held similar social justice interests. In This Is My America, I wanted young people to have a heroine engaged in activism and a text to explore humanity. Maybe inspiring the next generation to be a part of the solution.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
The story is not only timely look at our criminal justice system, but is fast-paced with an enthralling mystery that will keep listeners compulsively rooting for characters to the very end.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
The exceptional voice of Bahni Turpin was mesmerizing. I was awed at her ability to provide a unique vocal narration; I have specifically purchased audiobooks over print books when I knew she was the narrator. On top of all of that, she recorded This Is My America in her own studio since it was completed during the pandemic.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
Audiobooks are an amazing way to fall deeper into a story. Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (narrated by Jennifer Lim), Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy and James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk (both narrated by Bahni Turpin), and Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key (narrated by Imogen Church) are my most recent favorites.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
Booksellers provide personal keys to the windows and doors that readers search for [in order to find] their own passion and interests. Booksellers have been critical to identifying my interests and providing recommendations that expand my thinking, inspire me, and bring new ways of being through the power of a story. I am so thankful that as a debut, I will have so many amazing booksellers who will be a vehicle my story will have to connect to readers.