Saturday, 12 September 2020

Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
Published in America by HarperCollins on the 1st September 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo. 

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born 

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. 

The story that I think

will be my life 

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it? 

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Punching The Air is just brilliant! This novel-in-verse created such a shockingly emotional impact for me and, while thanks to memoirs such as Patrisse Khan-Cullors' When They Call You A Terrorist, I was already aware of the callous racism prevalent in America's justice system, reading Punching The Air made it feel as though someone I actually knew had been captured and trapped there. I understand that much of Amal's poetry was actually written by Yusef Salaam during his wrongful incarceration. I don't believe anyone could fail to be moved by his powerful words. His rage and pain leaps so vividly from every page.

While Amal's specific story is fictional, it always feels authentic and truthful. That such blatant injustice is commonplace should be horrifying to everyone, and that its main driver is corporate profiteering beggars belief. Amal is effectively unseen as an individual. A crime was committed by a black boy. A black boy has been imprisoned for it. Catching the guilty black boy is apparently irrelevant and, in common with thousands of other black boys, Amal's life is seen ultimately only as fodder for prison labour. His potential is squandered before it has any chance to bloom.

Punching The Air is intended for a Young Adult audience and I hope it gains a wide young readership - across youths of all colours. However, as someone who is considerably older than the target readership, I would also highly recommend this book to all adult readers, American or not. I can only hope that Tory Britain doesn't plan to import the American 'justice' model alongside their healthcare.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam / Poetry / Books from Haiti and America

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