Punching The Air | Ibi Zovoi and Yusef Saalam | Book Review

Punching The Air is a powerful verse novel about a young Muslim Black boy who is wrongly incarcerated. At 16 years old, Amal Shahid goes from attending a diverse art school to be convicted of a crime he did not commit and going to jail. Suddenly it becomes very obvious that an altercation will only be “boys will be boys” if it involves boys who are white. Amal is deep within his anger and despair when entering prison. This is his journey of him refinding and maintaining his humanity as a system tries so desperately to take it away.

From the first verse, I knew I was about to be taken on a powerful journey. Amal is just 16 years old but his life is being guided entirely by the color of his skin. He has been labeled as problematic in comparison to the white counterparts who were involved in the altercation. He is no longer able to just be a teenager. Now he has to deal with racism, both hidden and also right in his face.

The verse in this story is beautiful. I just loved the way that it was set up with both the worlds and the presentation. It is a piece of art within a declaration of art and strength. Amal turns to his artistry in order to find his truth within the prison walls. His art is raw and filled with emotion. It sends a message regarding his feelings, dreams, and desires.

From Amal’s point of view, this book does an amazing job of tackling institutional racism; the injustice of the system; and trying to find a way to make the senselessness make sense. From the moment I picked it up and had such a hard time putting it down for anything. It was just so gripping and realistic with plenty of easy flow. Even when the guards were being racist and just plain awful there was still easy flow. The Black anger is clear and present and beautifully heartbreaking. And the art that comes out of it is magical.

Punching The Air is loosely based on the experiences of Yusef Salaam who was wrongly imprisoned as a teen and lost 10 years of his life. His heart and soul are completely behind this book and through his heart and soul, you can see the light that is provided. This light is art and poetry for Amal and this art and poetry to bring light to others around him. This is truly an excellent read and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 5 Stars

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