Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam – A Review

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam – A Review

Punching The Air' Tells A Story Of Hope Behind Bars | WFAE

TITLE: Punching the Air

AUTHORS: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam


PUBLISHER: HarperCollins India

GENRE: YA Contemporary (Verse)

MY RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

SOURCE: Received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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.

“All because
we were in the wrong place
we were in the wrong skins
we were in the wrong time
we were in the wrong bodies
we were in the wrong country
we were in the wrong
were in the wrong
in the wrong
the wrong

What happens when you are in the wrong place at the wrong time? AND you’re black? You can guess the answer. To end up in prison for a crime you didn’t commit.

Punching the Air is a powerful novel written in verse that follows Amal Shahid, a black Muslim teenager who is sent off to a juvenile facility for a crime he didn’t commit and why? The answer is pretty obvious. He is black. This book heavily draws inspiration from the life of Yusef Salaam, who was also wrongly convicted in the Central Park Jogger Case back in 1989 and is now one of the members of the “Exonerated Five”. (Want to know more about it? You’re just a Google search away.)

Brimming with hard-hitting metaphors and imagery, this novel in verse is narrated from Amal’s perspective and is scattered with illustrations throughout that amplify this novel’s impact. This gut-wrenching novel deals with racism, police brutality, bullying, blind discrimination against the Black community and hate. This book will open your eyes to the unfairness of the situation in the world today and will make you want to stand in solidarity with the Black community!

Amal is an innocent teenager who is in art school and loves painting and poetry. This book goes on to portray how someone who should be enjoying his high school years while pursuing his passion and his crushes (wink wink) is serving a sentence in jail out of sheer injustice and racism.

Does the brutality end once the person is behind bars? Not at all. This novel sheds light on the fact that racism, brutality and bullying are prevalent IN prison as well. GAH WHY IS THE WORLD SO UNFAIR?

“How dare you say such a thing, Amal?
You are not alone in this fight
I’m here with you always
Your struggle in my struggle
Your hurt is my hurt
I’m hurting because you’re hurting, Amal- ”

I was looking forward to the visiting day scenes as these show the heartwarming interaction between Amal and his mother and how powerful and strong a woman Amal’s mother is. A simple hijab-clad woman with a heart of feathers and a will of steel! The friendship that blossomed between Amal and Kadon in prison was bittersweet!

I think this is the perfect time to pick up this book. With the #blacklivesmatter movement and recent incidents of police brutality and racism, there has never been a better time to pick it up! Ibi and Yusef have definitely packed a punch with this one! It might take all of 2 hours to read but it will leave a mark on your soul! You just CANNOT stop thinking about this book and you’ll end up wanting to hug Amal and tell him it’ll all be okay.

“Yusef and I wanted people to know that when you find yourself in dark places, there’s always a light somewhere in that darkness, and even if that light is inside of you, you can illuminate your own darkness by shedding that light on the world.”


In short, Punching the Air punches you in the gut and leaves you gasping for air!

What are some of your favorite novels in verse? Let me know in the comments below!

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