Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (9780062996480)
Amal is an artist and a poet. He’s also a Black teen. So when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and makes a poor decision, his life is turned upside down. With a white boy left in a coma from the fight, Amal is wrongly incarcerated, accused of beating the other teen almost to death. Sent to prison, Amal must figure out how to survive incarceration without his anger at his situation changing him and his future forever. Amal must find a way to stay in touch with his inner artist, to write the words that come to him, to insist upon being seen as more than a convict. He must face the racism of the system, of his community, and of the people around him in prison. It’s a system set against him and it takes real courage and humanity to stay alive and whole as it grinds you down.
Told in verse, this is a powerful book that insists that readers see how the system actually works, its inherent racism, and the way that Black youths, particularly boys, are seen by white communities and white teachers. It is unflinching in showing the grueling nature of prison, the way that teens are treated in detention, the beatings and the inevitable protection in finding a group to belong to. Yet through it all there is hope, solely because of who Amal is and the fact that he is innocent but needs help proving it.
The book reads with such honesty about what life is like for an innocent person incarcerated that it is clear that Salaam offered so much of his own experience to this verse novel. As one of the Exonerated Five, he lived through what Amal does in the story, what so many Black men and boys in our communities do.
This powerful verse novel demands that we see the reality of what we are doing to generations of Black men and boys. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.