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YA Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Title: Punching the Air

Author: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Year Published: 2020

Category: YA fiction (verse)
Pages: 400
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (IL)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 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.
Review: Wow. Just wow. Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (of the Exonerated Five) have created a powerful and well done book. I expect this book to be an award contender from a number of groups come the start of the new year.

Amal Shahid is a likable character that I was drawn to quickly. He's a good guy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and is paying dearly for it. He symbolizes all the young black men who are caught up in the criminal (in)justice system as well as Yusef Salaam himself. Salaam worked with Zoboi to write this novel from conception to print. If you've seen any of the documentaries about the Central Park Five/Exonerated Five, you'll see the boys in this story: their innocence, mistreatment, notoriety, and jail time.

I loved how Amal didn't lose his passion for art and poetry when he was behind bars. He found outlets for his anger, his sadness, his yearning to be released from jail. It was frustrating to see how the system would give him a bit, then take it all away, only to repeat the pattern.

The novel is written in verse, which works well for the story. In fact, some of the poetry in the book is Yusef's poetry, which gives it even deeper meaning. The verse allows the authors to give a cadence to the story and the broken way that Amal is feeling throughout. I also liked the illustrations that are sprinkled throughout the book, they help to emphasize feelings and ideas that Amal shares.

For anyone unfamiliar with the original story of the 5 young boys who were wrongfully jailed in the Central Park jogger trial, this article show the difference between the Ken and Sarah Burns documentary "Central Park Five" and Ava Duvernay's miniseries "When They See Us."

Challenges for which this counts: 
This book counts for the Popsugar challenge because it is a bildungsroman (dealing with the character's formative years)

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