This is My America by Kim Johnson
Seven years ago, Tracy Beaumont’s father was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Each week, Tracy writes a letter to Innocence X pleading to their appeals department to review her father’s case. With only about 200 days left until her father’s scheduled execution, Tracy, her mother, her younger sister, and her older brother are losing hope that they can save their patriarch. Then, another person in their town is murdered, and Tracy’s brother, Jamal, is accused. Jamal did not kill Angela, but he has run away from home to escape arrest and attempt to find her actual killer. With two accused murderers in the family, the entire south Texas town begins to turn away from Tracy’s family to avoid being targeted by the local white nationalist groups. With the clock ticking on both her father and brother, Tracy is determined to prove their innocence and bring justice to her family and the families of the murder victims.
This is My America depicts the effects of police brutality and corrupt prosecution practices in America. Although there are similar Young Adult books tackling racism and police brutality, This is My America distinguishes itself by focusing on the emotional, physical, and financial impact of mass incarceration on the Black family. Johnson shows how the KKK is not a piece of history long-gone, but is an organization continuing to hunt down and torture Americans of color. Johnson explores generational trauma and the danger of being complicit mainly from the perspective of Tracy’s Black family, but also touches on the generational trauma of being a raised to be a racist and the danger of being complicit in that role. These parallel stories of the white and Black family are thought provoking, without centering the white narrative. Along with the personal struggles explored throughout the book, the plot includes a mystery element as Tracy investigates who the real murderers are.
I was able to listen to this book on Libro.fm, and it is narrated by Bahni Turpin, one of my favorite narrators! Turpin brings such life to each of the characters in her narrations, and this book was no different. I would recommend this book (especially the audiobook!) to young adults and adults that can handle content including police encounters, off the page murder, off the page lynching, racism, Black trauma, hate crimes, and police shooting.
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Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
First Son of the United States Alex Claremont-Diaz is the perfect everything: hard-working student, gorgeous young bachelor, and the future youngest-person-ever-to-be-voted-to-Congress. His seemingly only flaw? He can’t stand Prince Henry of Wales, basically his equally-perfect counterpart of British royalty. When Alex and Prince Henry come to blows in a news-worthy embarrassing photo-op, the White House and the royal family take quick steps to fix things. What begins as an international PR plan to cover up the bad blood between these rival golden boys quickly becomes something more real than either Alex or Henry could have imagined.
Red, White, & Royal Blue is the queer relationship comedy novel I never knew I wanted as a teenager. Heck, it’s the novel I didn’t even know I wanted as an adult! The enemies-to-friends plot induces a giddiness and a warmth that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. And, the narrative style and the plot itself is reminiscent of the young-adult books I read and loved so much when I was a kid; like The Princess Diaries or well...I mean anything Meg Cabot wrote, really. But, what is exceptionally stunning about McQuiston’s book is the characters. Alex and Henry are (on the shiny, media-friendly surface) the kinds of policy-making, world-changing twenty-somethings we all hope to be. But, as they get to know each other better, we learn that they’re actually just as anxious and self-conscious as we all are.
Though the general vibe of this book reminds me of a young-adult story, the slightly older age range of the characters makes this a book for, I think, a slightly older audience, or a young-adult audience that’s ready for some steamy moments. There’s definitely some sexy scenes in this novel, and they’re treated with respect for consent and open communication, so yay! In Red, White, & Royal Blue, McQuiston covers the more personal topics—like intimacy and coming out—in equal measure with the heavy hitters—like politics and international relations—all wrapped up in a page-turner that will have you wanting to re-read it as soon as you’ve finished.
Isabelle Lang has moved from the bayou to the dessert and back again, and holds a BA and MA from Mississippi State University, as well as an MFA in poetry from UNR. Her work has appeared in Beecher’s Magazine, The Meadow, and elsewhere. She currently teaches writing in West Baton Rouge.
If you'd like to read Red, White & Royal Blue and support Beausoleil Books, use the buttons below to purchase through the Bookshop.org and Libro.fm affiliate programs. Also get excited for Casey McQuiston's second book One Last Stop, coming out in June 2021!
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Intelligent, beautiful, talented Noemi adores her glamorous life in 1950s Mexico City, but misses her cousin, Catalina, who was quickly and scandalously married a few months ago. After Catalina’s marriage, she moved to the countryside to live in her new husband’s family home, High Place, and Noemi hasn’t heard from her since. When Noemi’s father receives a letter from a seemingly psychotic Catalina, he sends Noemi for a visit to check in on Catalina’s health. Although High Place and its residents appear unwelcoming and odd, Noemi is happy to be able to visit Catalina and try to understand why Catalina wanted to marry this mysterious husband. What begins as a simple visit quickly turns into a nightmare for Noemi and all the residents of High Place. Who can Noemi trust? What has made Catalina so ill? And can Noemi and Catalina escape High Place alive?
Although Mexican Gothic begins in an unassuming Gothic way, with a psychotic cousin and a haunted house, the book slowly turns until you are completely snatched from reality and cannot put the book down. Until the end, I couldn’t figure out which of the creepy characters were trustworthy or even which scenes were reality. The atmosphere and setting of this book were remarkably vibrant; I could picture High Place and each of its residents in full disgusting detail. While the book may begin slowly, and some readers may be tempted to put it down after the first 50 pages, this one was worth sticking it out for me and many others.
This is definitely a horror novel, and some readers may need content warnings for sexual assault, suicide, domestic abuse, incest, hallucinations, murder and gore, cannibalism, eugenics, death of a parent and other family members, miscarriages, and racism. It is difficult to provide a full review of this book without delving into spoilers, but it is certainly more than just a haunted house. Readers of fast-paced action-filled horror and readers of beautiful yet devastating prose will find something to enjoy in this story. Despite the plethora of content warnings, I would recommend this book to young adults as well as adults that enjoy horror.
P.S. Mexican Gothic will be adapted into a mini-series by Hulu. Special thanks to our friends at Libro.fm, who provided a copy of Mexican Gothic for me to listen to.
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Luster by Raven Leilani
Edie is a 23-year-old artist living in New York and working a day-job at a publishing company. While struggling to figure out her place in this world and how to co-exist with others, she slips into a romantic relationship with a married digital archivist, Eric, from New Jersey. Eric’s wife, a medical examiner named Rebecca, has consented to an open marriage with certain rules, all of which Edie seems to break. After being fired, Edie finds herself unintentionally living with Eric, Rebecca, and their teenaged daughter, Akila. The remainder of the story examines this phase in Edie’s struggle to build and maintain relationships with those around her and develop her artistic talent.
Although Edie makes questionable choices and seems to have difficulty understanding her sexuality, she unapologetically takes ownership of her body (to the extent she can) and attempts to find pleasure in using her body to make others uncomfortable. Edie is messy, intelligent, complicated, beautiful, disruptive, emotional, and real. Knowing that Edie has an affair with an older white man and knowing that Edie becomes a role model to the white couple’s Black daughter, I was concerned about a potential stereotypical representation of a young Black woman. However, Leilani does not put Edie into any of the stereotypical neatly packaged boxes that perpetuate racism and bore readers. At moments that could arguably be stereotypical, Leilani’s choice to utilize a stream-of-consciousness narration style allows for a deeper exploration of these ideas through Edie’s perspective. Leilani portrays each grotesque and beautiful moment that makes up this phase of Edie’s life with authenticity and without judgment. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the focus not only on the relationship between Edie and Eric, but also between Edie and Rebecca, and between Edie and Akila. However, at its heart, this book is about Edie’s relationship with herself.
The tone of the book involves dark humor, sadness, and loneliness with small moments of joyful escape. The writing style follows Edie’s mental associations and emotions through her memories and her ponderings on the meanings of the events in her life. Edie’s thoughts are matter-of-fact yet poetic. This debut novel is a work of art. It isn’t a story you read; it’s a story you experience. I would especially recommend this book to fans of Alice Walker, as it reminded me of You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down. Although I would recommend this novel to all contemporary fiction fans, readers may want to be aware of trigger warnings for racism, police brutality, gun violence, physical abuse, abortion, miscarriage, and drug addiction.
Special thanks to our friends at Libro.fm, who provided a copy of Luster for me to listen to.
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