Summary (from the publisher): 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
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.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
I really can’t come up with a YA title to compare Punching the Air to because it is just so, so different from what is out in the YA book world. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book that follows a protagonist who is incarcerated, let alone one that deals with such timely themes and conversations. Co-written by Ibi Zoiboi and Yuself Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five, Punching the Air is a YA novel told in verse following Amal, a teenager who is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. The novel begins with Amal’s court case and decision and soon transitions into his life living in a juvenile detention center.
Punching the Air caused me to have so many visceral reactions, especially in stanzas when Amal is describing the violence and depression he experiences inside juvenile detention. The reader really begins to feel his frustration and anger, especially when talking to the social worker and other adults who can’t comprehend what Amal is going through. There are so many important stanzas centered around race and discrimination, as Amal identifies as Black and Muslim. Amal is also an artist, and he often attempts to work through his frustration with his (white) art teacher who never understood Amal or his desire to learn about artists with a similar identity as him. Amal tries to rely on art as a form of escapism while in prison, but he often prevented from doing so because it is seen as privilege there.